German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday during her joint press conference in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras that she was ‘grateful to him for working with the Prime Minister of FYROM, Zoran Zaev in reach a solution to the decades long ‘name’ issue, adding that the deal with benefit both countries.
Merkel noted though that there was no connection between the Prespes Agreement to resolve the name dispute and economic reforms.
“I am not going to get involved in the plans of political parties in Greece. I believe that the solution of the name dispute is in the interests of Greece, of North Macedonia and of Europe. I will put the case to [main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos] Mitsotakis as I have presented it to you but I don’t think that this will have any influence,” she added, noting that it was the role of the opposition to exercise criticism but also to adopt the right stance when there were major national issues at stake.
The German Chancellor, in reference to the upcoming European elections, said that she was united with Tsipras “in the deeply-held conviction that it is through cooperation in Europe, not nationalism, that we will have a better future.”
Merkel also touched on the refugee crisis and migration issues, noting that the EU-Turkey agreement, “has not been implemented in the way that we would like,” especially the part concerning returns.
“We will work with Greece to improve some parts of the agreement. We agreed today that for the refugees that do not come from Syria but from other countries, the EU-Turkey agreement will not apply and we will try to find other ways of support,” she said. The chancellor also referred to the need for a common European policy on migration.
Merkel noted that the aim of her visit was to help Greece get back on its feet, reduce unemployment and finance its needs by tapping the markets, adding that large German investments in Greece show confidence in the country.
“This is not the end of a period of reforms but the start of a new situation. Unemployment has fallen and we must try to create jobs for young people,” the chancellor said, pointing to initiatives in the export sector and welcoming Tsipras’s announcement that Germany will be the honoured country at the 2020 Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
In his statement, the Greek PM noted that Greece was now a very different place from the country that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had visited in 2014, when she was last in Athens.
“Then it was a country on the brink of a precipice, with a teetering economy and a society that was suffering and in anguish. There were one million unemployed, a paralysed social state, broken-down protection systems for the weakest and no real hope of recovery,” he said.
Among the topics discussed in their meeting was the importance of peace, stability and growth in the Balkans for the future and security of Europe, Tsipras said.
“We stressed the importance that the Prespes Agreement has for the region and for Europe, as a step forward and a model agreement for other disputes, which shows that mutually acceptable solutions – without one side imposing something on the other – are possible,” he said.
Tsipras also highlighted the rising danger of the far right in Europe and the role that the dominant economic dogma played, in his opinion, in feeding the growth of far-right and anti-European populism, highlighting the need to counter this by building a social Europe and a new architecture for the Eurozone.
“We stress, together with the Chancellor, that this is the greatest danger for Europe,” he said, referring to the far-right forces seeking to increase their influence in the upcoming European elections.
Referring to Greece’s experience, he said that Greeks had struggled to cope with measures that were unfair, often incomprehensible and sometimes just ineffective, which had tested social cohesion in the country, but were now “emerging from the crisis for good,” Tsipras said.
Relations between Greece and Germany were also tested during the eight-year crisis, he added, “but we were able to overcome this great challenge” and leave the stereotypes behind, despite some intense clashes, hard negotiations and difficult compromises.
Despite significant ideological and political differences, both then and now, “we were able to find a common ground because the priority was to rescue Greece but also Europe itself,” Tsipras said, expressing his pride that Greece was no longer part of the problem in Europe but part of the solution.
“We have the will and the strength to say no to centrifugal forces that propose national entrenchment, nationalism and racism as the answer to the economic and geopolitical challenges of globalisation,” Tsipras said.
They also agreed with Merkel on the crucial need to establish a comprehensive European policy for asylum and migration and to revise the present system, Tsipras added, calling for a policy “with stronger support mechanism for countries on the front line, a strong returns mechanism and an upgrading of the EU’s relations with origin and transit countries.”
Tsipras announced that he reached an agreement with Merkel that Germany will be the honoured country at the 2020 Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).