Sat, Jan 12, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Merkel praises Greece’s Tsipras during state visit

AFP, ATHENS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday heaped praise on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a show of post-austerity solidarity during a visit to Athens, lending diplomatic support for a name change for Greece’s neighbor Macedonia.

Merkel’s arrival was in marked contrast to her last official visit to Athens in 2014, when she faced angry anti-austerity protests.

“Through cooperation we can all have a better future, rather than through nationalism, which frequently led Europe to disaster,” Merkel said. “We Germans know particularly well what these disasters mean, because of the bleak history of National Socialism.”

Merkel congratulated Tsipras on his “decisive action” on Greece’s name row with Macedonia.

The former constituent part of Yugoslavia shares the name of a northern Greek province.

Tsipras and Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev have agreed in principle that Skopje would change the name of the country to “the Republic of North Macedonia.”

However, Macedonian lawmakers have still to vote through the move, which entails four constitutional amendments and requires two-thirds support in parliament.

The name deal will permit the Republic of North Macedonia to join NATO and the EU and “is in the interest of all of Europe,” Merkel said.

Tsipras said it is “a model accord” that would bring stability and growth to the region.

“Greece was part of the problem and has become part of the solution,” he said after two hours of talks with Merkel.

Merkel visited Skopje before a referendum last year on the change to show support.

Yet the issue remains divisive in Greece, where one party in Tsipras’s coalition opposes it, threatening his parliamentary majority.

The main conservative New Democracy opposition party is also against the name change and wants new elections, which are not due before October.

Merkel was yesterday to address the subject in talks with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose party is a European Parliament ally of her Christian Democratic Union party.

Despite the positive tone on Thursday, about 200 protesters brandished anti-Merkel placards in central Athens with slogans such as “Go back, Merkel.”

“Merkel has again come to Greece to pressure the government,” pensioner Melina Kotsaki said. “She is not welcome in Greece.”

Tensions were high between Berlin and Athens during the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, when Merkel’s government insisted on tough austerity measures for Greece in return for international bailouts.

Tsipras was a fervent opponent of the austerity measures when he came to power in 2015, but changed tack six months later under pressure from the EU.

His message on Thursday was one of tolerance and unity.

“The major danger today for Europe is not political differences between forces that believe in Europe, but the emergence of anti-European powers that threaten it,” Tsipras said.

Greek daily Kathimerini quoted Merkel as saying that Greece had Germany’s full support as she embarked on her visit saluting the “close ties” between the two EU states and NATO partners.

“I know that the past few years have been very difficult for many people in Greece. Europe showed its solidarity through three rescue programs and supported Greece in its course of reforms towards fiscal and economic stability,” Kathimerini quoted Merkel as saying, adding that “great progress” has been made since.

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