Pointed remarks between Schaeuble, Tsipras put strain on Athens-Berlin relations
The acrimonious public spat between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble got personal Thursday after the latter said in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper that he felt “no compassion” for the Greek leader.
The German minister said he could not understand why Tsipras accuses the German government of wanting to harm Greek pensioners – in reference to Berlin’s opposition to the government granting a Christmas bonus to low-income pensioners.
Germany, he said, is trying to help Greece get back on its feet, adding that understanding “has its limits.”
“Greece is in its third [bailout] program and without the economic aid reaching into the billions it would have defaulted long ago,” he said.
In what was seen as a retort to Schaeuble, Tsipras said Thursday, while highlighting Greek efforts in response to the refugee crisis, that “those that wave their finger in the name of agreements and address the Greek people in a disrespectful manner should know that they are the ones who should first fulfill their commitments before they address us.”
However, Tsipras appeared to take it a notch higher, saying that “those that are not well in their soul cannot tackle the problems of their country, Europe and the world.”
In a bid to pre-empt a backlash, government sources were quick to clarify that the statements were not aimed at Schaeuble.
The spat comes as government aides appear convinced that the freeze on short-term debt relief measures for Greece by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), as well as the lack of progress in the negotiations to complete the second review of the country’s third bailout, are part of an effort by European countries, mainly Germany, to highlight the burden of “the Greek problem.”
Aides said that despite the fact that the Greek economy is showing signs of recovery, there is a concerted effort in some capitals to depict a different picture to their respective electorates.
“It’s the pressure of the far-right that makes them want to appear intransigent,” a government source said, adding that the far-right cannot be allowed to set the tone and agenda in Europe.
In any case, Athens appears optimistic that by the end of the coming week all the necessary prerequisites to unlock the debt relief measures will be met.
As far as the review is concerned, sources were confident that all loose ends will be picked up in January.
Regarding labor reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund as one of the preconditions, a source said that the “IMF must understand – with regard to collective bargaining – that this is Europe.”
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