A headline in Greek newspaper Ethnos describes today as “Merkel Time.” About 7,000 police are on duty in the center of Athens, half a dozen metro stations are closed from 10am and streets near Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s office are being shut. The lockdown comes as labor unions seek to ensure their protects against austerity measures are heard by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is visiting Greece for the first time since the debt crisis started.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Merkel’s trip is a sign of respect and recognition toward the Greek people, Italy’s Repubblica reports. But those sentiments may not be reflected in today’s protest marches. Many Greeks hold Merkel responsible for demanding the austerity measures pushed through by the Greek government, and her failure to acknowledge protests in any of the countries worst hit by the debt crisis has marked her image across the region.
Even so, the visit may herald a new approach to the Greek crisis in Berlin. Greece’s Kathimerini suggests Merkel may be taking a more diplomatic approach: the trip “looks like an attempt to bridge differences, an effort to try a little kindness and tact.” Still, it’s unclear whether Merkel offering public support to the government of Antonis Samaras on his home ground will reduce or add to the country’s political instability. As Kathimerini says, “the recent general strike, the daily protests, the clash involving protesting shipyard workers at the Defense Ministry, the ugly exchanges in Parliament, the slew of corruption and tax evasion scandals, the disintegration of PASOK and the ascendancy of Golden Dawn have all contributed to the sense that Greece is a country clinging on for dear life.”
In Germany, none of the larger newspapers carry Merkel’s visit to Athens on their front page. When they do discuss the trip, buried on the inside pages, it is in the context of next year’s election. Less than two weeks ago, the opposition Social Democrat party chose Peer Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, to challenge Merkel next year – opening up the possibility they will argue for more leniency on euro-zone debt. Merkel’s trip may well present a more friendly face to the Greek government, and even suggest a fresh look at austerity requirements – but this is aimed mainly at keeping Merkel atop the German polls.