When Angela Merkel was asked in a discussion round recently for the toughest moments of her chancellorship she recalled the Greek debt crisis.
At the time she had “expected so much” of the people in Greece, she said. Greek media lampooned this reminiscence with irony. “That’s no beg pardon,” commented a moderator on Skai TV.
Angela Merkel and the Greeks: It’s hard to imagine a more fraught relationship. Most Greeks won’t shed a tear about the departing chancellor who’s leaving politics after the 26 September election. They see her as the driving force of the “German savings dictate” during the government debt crisis.
In 2010 the EU and the International Monetary Fund put together the first aid package for Greece It imposed tough terms. “It has to hurt,” Merkel had said at the time, recalls the then socialist PASOK prime minister George Papandreou.
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Dangerous and evil Merkel
The radical-leftwing SYRIZA opposition politician and later prime minister Alexis Tsipras accused Merkel at the time of wanting to create a “social holocaust” in Greece. He demonised Merkel as “the most dangerous politician in Europe.”
“I was depicted as the evil woman, that was hard,“ Merkel recalled now.
The German chancellor was then one of the most unpopular foreign politicians to Greeks. At the peak of the crisis 85 per cent of people polled had a negative opinion of the German leader, though since then her image has improved some.
Many Greek men and women now know that it was Merkel who kept Greece in the Euro, in opposition to the Grexit plans of her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. For her refugee policy Merkel also gets praise in Greece in retrospect. From the Greek point of view the flip side of German refugee policy is what many regard as Markel’s sucking up to the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Angelos Athanasopoulos, politics chief at To Vima newspaper, comments that Merkel gives “exaggerated support” to Erdogan out of fear of a new refugee crisis. He also sees Merkel making the impression that in the eastern Mediterranean she’s “doing more to win Turkey’s approval” than to support the rights of EU member Greece.
Certainly true is that no other foreign politician has influenced Greece’s course in the past decade as much as Merkel. More decisions were made in the Berlin chancellery than in Athens on issues of Greece’s fate like Grexit or the state bankruptcy.
In future, too, many Greeks will have ambivalent feelings about Germany, regardless of who succeeds Merkel. As holidaymakers Germans are welcome guests, especially as they stayed loyal during the pandemic. But politically most Greeks feel misunderstood by Germany.
Written by a reader of Neos Kosmos from Germany.