by Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl
German Press Agency
March 20, 2015
When Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras first sat down with top European officials in the middle of the night on Thursday to discuss his country's economic woes, the atmosphere appeared almost light-hearted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was filmed merrily chatting with Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker laughed at a comment by EU President Donald Tusk.
But diplomats say the atmosphere quickly turned serious after the cameramen were ushered out of the room. Aid negotiations with the cash-strapped country had made only halting progress and fears were spreading that Greece could run out of money and leave the eurozone.
Tsipras was seeking quick access to his country's remaining bailout funds, but EU leaders had closed ranks earlier Thursday with a demand that Athens deliver reforms before any more cash could flow.
"This was not a meeting to take decisions but to have a reality check," Tusk said Friday. "This was an important meeting in which we managed to rebuild trust. It is now up to all of us, not least Greece, to live up to that."
"There was criticism of how [EU] officials were treated in Athens. These were frank words," one source said on condition of anonymity.