An­gela Merkel in Athens

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY TOM EL­LIS

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s two-day visit to Athens is tak­ing place in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment than the last one in April 2014. Then, Alexis Tsipras had de­scribed the visit as a stunt aimed at “show­ing sup­port for her rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mr [An­to­nis] Sa­ma­ras.” Things have changed. Slo­gans such as “Go back Mrs Merkel” and nu­mer­ous other in­sults tar­get­ing the chan­cel­lor – as well as do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents for co­op­er­at­ing with her – are now in the past. Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Athens and Berlin, as well as with Brus­sels, is on a good foot­ing to­day. Still, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor will call on Tsipras not to di­verge from the re­form ef­fort. How­ever, this visit will not only fo­cus on the econ­omy. It will also ad­dress the Pre­spes name deal. Merkel will re­it­er­ate Ger­many’s pos­i­tive stance to­wards the agree­ment signed be­tween Greece and the For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM) and on this mat­ter, the prime min­is­ter will get sup­port from the chan­cel­lor. More in­ter­est­ing is how Merkel will deal with the leader of Greece’s main op­po­si­tion, Kyr­i­akos Mit­so­takis. The in­ten­tions and aims of our Eu­ro­pean part­ners, as well as those of the Amer­i­cans, are well known. But it would be a mis­take to put pres­sure on the leader of New Democ­racy. The chan­cel­lor knows, from her brief­ings from the Ger­man Em­bassy in Athens, that the FYROM name dis­pute was a po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge not for Tsipras – whose sup­port­ers and vot­ers have tra­di­tion­ally been in fa­vor of a so­lu­tion that would in­clude some com­pro­mises – but for Mit­so­takis. Had the ND leader sup­ported the deal, he would have risked the breakup of his party – a loyal mem­ber of the Eu­ro­pean Peo­ple’s Party group and a pil­lar of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the coun­try. And at to­day’s po­lit­i­cal junc­ture, nei­ther Greece, nor the Balkans, would ben­e­fit from the creation of a new po­lit­i­cal move­ment in Greece that could eas­ily fall prey to in­flu­ences from other pow­ers. Ad­di­tion­ally, as a party that re­spects the con­tin­u­a­tion of the state, New Democ­racy will, if it comes to power, go along with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the deal. Hence, the nor­mal­iza­tion of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween Greece and FYROM will move ahead, and the lat­ter will join the North At­lantic al­liance. In this light, Merkel has no rea­son to put Mit­so­takis on the spot. Ob­vi­ously she will ex­press her sup­port for the agree­ment, but her strate­gic goals would best be served by adding that she is not putting pres­sure on any­one and that she re­spects those Greeks who have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on this sen­si­tive is­sue.

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