October 10, 2012
Angela Merkel, Germany’s normally cautious chancellor, took a big risk in travelling to Athens this week. Barely two hours after her arrival, police were using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse angry crowds. But Ms Merkel was right to gamble.
Since Greece embarked on its deeply unpopular austerity programme, European leaders have largely avoided meeting the growing dissatisfaction head on. As leader of the country blamed for enforcing the painful cuts, Ms Merkel is the focus of this public fury. In this context it took courage to accept the invitation of Antonis Samaras, Greece’s prime minister, just as the government prepares a new round of cuts and tax rises.
It was also politically astute. Ms Merkel’s visit should draw a line under a damaging summer of speculation about Germany’s desire to keep Greece in the eurozone. Comments by German politicians that they did not fear a Greek exit have sowed resentment in Greece. Public opinion sees no point in accepting more austerity if, ultimately, Berlin wants the Greeks out. Germans, meanwhile, are not prepared to transfer yet more money to a country which has failed to implement promised reforms.