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BERLIN — With time running ever shorter for an accord to ease Greece’s debt crisis and reported cash crunch, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday sought at least to take the sting out of venomous exchanges between Athens and Berlin in recent weeks.
It was unclear whether Ms. Merkel, who prepared to receive Mr. Tsipras with military honors at her gleaming, modern Chancellery, would reach any understanding with him on the pressing question of Greek debt. Four weeks after undertaking to do so, Athens has yet to present a list of detailed overhauls that it would implement to get the next tranche of credit from its three main creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, which is acting on behalf of the 18 other members of the eurozone.
Mr. Tsipras wrote to Ms. Merkel on March 15 highlighting Greece’s looming cash crunch, the Greek government spokesman, Gavriil Sakellaridis, told Greek television on Monday. He said the letter had also been sent to other European leaders, including President François Hollande of France and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission.
The letter, first reported by The Financial Times, prompted a three-hour, late-night meeting last week in Brussels between Mr. Tsipras and the German, French and European leaders, Mr. Sakellaridis said. Mr. Tsipras “was listened to” in Brussels, he said, adding that Athens was not joking when it said it would soon face a stark choice between paying state salaries and pensions, or paying creditors.
“It’s not a threat, it’s reality,” Mr. Sakellaridis said.
In Berlin, officials would confirm only that a letter from Mr. Tsipras had been received “in recent days.” Ms. Merkel said last week that she would not be able to reach a final agreement with Mr. Tsipras because that role belonged to the eurozone and the creditors. “No one should expect solutions” from Monday’s talks, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, reiterated on Monday.
Verbal hostilities have mounted in recent weeks, with particular bitterness lacing the remarks of each country’s finance ministers. Last week, a controversy swirled over whether the Greek minister, Yanis Varoufakis, had made a provocative one-fingered gesture at Germany at a conference in Croatia two years ago.
More gravely, the question of whether Germany should pay more reparations to Greece for Nazi war crimes and forced loans has flared, with some leading figures on the German left ready to consider such payments. The government in Berlin, a coalition of center-right and center-left, says the matter is closed.
The magazine Der Spiegel summed it all up with a cover this week superimposing a picture of Ms. Merkel on an old photograph of Nazi commanders at the Parthenon in Athens under the headline, “The German Übermacht.” In an accompanying article, it argued that fellow Europeans increasingly see Germany, which is Europe’s biggest economy, and its leaders as dominant. “Yet they are rather a weak than a strong hegemon,” Der Spiegel said of the Germans.
After the weeks of mounting acrimony, the foreign ministers of Greece and Germany set a friendlier tone Sunday night, sitting down for a three-hour dinner described by the German Foreign Ministry spokesman, Martin Schäfer, as “very pleasant, very intensive.”
The ministers, who studied at the same university in Giessen in western Germany, spoke German throughout, as did several of the other officials present, Mr. Schäfer said. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed afterward that, “We cannot allow the strong foundation of German-Greek relations to be hollowed out by undoubtedly big and difficult questions that we in Europe must solve.”
In a blow to hard-pressed Greek banks, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said on Monday that Greece had not yet met conditions that would allow its debt to again be used to secure central bank loans.
In February, the European Central Bank stopped allowing Greek banks to use their holdings of Greek government debt as collateral for cheap loans. The central bank cited statements by Greek officials suggesting they would no longer honor bailout conditions.
Instead, Greek banks have been forced to draw on a separate line of credit that carries a higher interest rate.
The European Central Bank will start accepting Greek debt again “as soon as the conditions for successful conclusion of the program under existing arrangements are there,” Mr. Draghi said during an appearance before a committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Mr. Draghi bristled at accusations by one member of Parliament that the central bank was blackmailing Greece. He suggested it was the other way around. The European Central Bank’s credit to Greece has more than doubled since December to 104 billion euros, or about $113 billion, he said.
“Are we blackmailing Greece?” Mr. Draghi said. “It’s a bit rich when you look at our exposure to Greece.”