Greek leader asks Germany for 'more room to breathe'
BERLIN -- Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday in an effort to win two more years to meet his country's budget-deficit targets, but Merkel insisted that Athens stick to its stated commitments.
Facing a restless electorate that is hardening its opinions toward Greece, Merkel said Germany was prepared to help Athens remain in the 17-nation Eurozone. But she added that any renegotiation of Greece's bailout terms should wait until next month, when the so-called troika composed of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is set to issue a progress report on Greece's economic and financial reforms.
In advance of his visit to Berlin, Samaras went on the offensive in the German media, saying in interviews that Greece simply needed "more room to breathe." In order to qualify for its next round of international aid, Greece must make about $14 billion in cuts by 2014. The center-right Samaras, who heads a shaky coalition government that was elected in June, said his country needs until 2016 because of its steep economic downturn.
But patience in Germany is wearing thin with Greece's continual failure to meet deadlines. After Friday's meeting with Samaras, Merkel reiterated her stance that "Greece is a part of the Eurozone, and I would like Greece to remain part of the Eurozone." But facing tough elections next year for a third term in office, she added that she "made clear in the talks that we of course expect from Greece that the commitments that were made be implemented, that deeds follow words."
Many in Merkel's center-right coalition haven't ruled out the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro. Even her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaueble, who has said he also does not want Greece to leave the euro, is setting up a working group to consider the possibility, the Financial Times Deutschland reported.
On Saturday, Samaras flies to Paris where he is likely to hear a similar message from President Francois Hollande. Merkel and Hollande met in Berlin on Thursday over a private dinner and afterward presented a unified front on the euro crisis and Greece's need to fulfill its pledges.
-- Renuka Rayasam
Photo: Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conferece in Berlin on Friday. Credit: Stephanie Pilick / EPA