On her first visit to Athens in four years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday expressed her support for the Prespes name deal as well as Greece’s ongoing economic reform efforts, saying the country was entering a new phase.
In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Merkel said the name deal “creates clarity” and will be beneficial not just for Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia but for the whole of the European Union.
She hailed the efforts of Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev and said she would raise the issue of the name deal with Greece’s conservative New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who she is to meet on Friday. She noted, however, that she did not believe she could influence Mitsotakis, who opposes the agreement.
Merkel rejected speculation that there had been a trade-off between Greek support for the Prespes accord and creditors’ approval of the cancelation of a planned round of pension cuts this month, saying she was “surprised” that the question had even been posed.
Tsipras, for his part, said that the deal reached between Greece and FYROM on the name dispute can be a “model” for solving other problems in the region.
Describing Greece as a “pillar of stability in the region,” Tsipras said that the country has moved from being “part of the problem to part of the solution in Europe.”
Merkel too expressed her conviction that Greece has entered a new chapter.
“It is not the end of a reform period, but the beginning of a new situation,” she said, adding that she expected the country to return to financial markets. “My visit, all my work, has this as its purpose, that Greece can stand on its own feet, and get financing from the markets,” Merkel told a press conference, adding that reducing unemployment is another key priority.
Merkel referred to German investments in Greece, while suggesting that the country’s public administration could benefit from some improvements. She also thanked Tsipras for naming Germany as the honored country for next year’s Thessaloniki International Fair.
The two leaders also discussed the refugee crisis, with Merkel acknowledging that it struck Greece when it was already grappling with its economic crisis. Merkel said Berlin would continue to support the deal for returns between Turkey and the EU signed in March 2016 which minimized the flow of migrants through Greece but said it should not apply to refugees fleeing war and strife.
Tsipras, for his part, underlined the importance of Turkey showing respect for international law “at a time that a new energy map is in the process of being drawn up.” He also said Albania should not be a candidate for European Union membership as long as it disrespects its Greek minority.
Both Tsipras and Merkel stressed the improvement in relations between the two sides since the peak of the crisis. However, Tsipras took the opportunity to reiterate Greece’s demands for war reparations from Germany.