Steinmeier sees Greek resolve on reforms, calls for migrant distribution

Steinmeier calls for closer bilateral ties in Athens

In Athens for talks with Alexis Tsipras and Nikos Kotzias, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier notes Greek commitment to reforms, extols handling of refugee crisis.

George Gilson

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias lionised visiting German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier as “the representative of the German enlightenment in the 21st century", and Steinmeier praised Greece's determination to implement reforms and its humanitarian efforts in handling the refugee crisis, at a press conference following talks in Athens today.

Steinmeier expressed “absolute respect” for the fact that “Greece found the strength to agree to necessary reforms and begin implementing them”.

“We know the burdens Greeks have undertaken and will shoulder in the future,” he said, noting Athens' commitment to implement agreed reforms now and in the future and asserting that the positive results of reforms appear much later.

Steinmeier thanked Greece for its efforts in managing the refugee and migrant crisis. “I'd like to say thank you for the fact that Greece recognises and implements its humanitarian duty. The Greek coast guard has saved hundreds of migrants,” he said.

The German foreign minister stressed the need to strike a fair distribution of refugees among EU member states, and he bemoaned rising inter-state tensions between Germany and Austria, between the EU and the Balkans, and between other Balkan countries and Greece.

“This is a pan-European problem,” he declared.

“The creation of hots spots is a necessary but not sufficient condition. It is not enough without a system of distribution,” the German foreign minister said.

Steinmeier also underlined the urgent need to step up cooperation with Turkey in stemming migrant flows, as well as with African countries.

Ankara has consistently failed to honour bilateral agreements with Greece stipulating that Ankara is obliged to take back migrants that reach Greece from Turkish shores.

Steinmeier's visit comes as Greece rushes to pass dozens of unpopular reforms needed to unlock disbursement of a two-billion euro loan tranche and to prepare the way for the recapitalisation of its banks.

It also coincides with thorny disputes with creditors regarding a VAT tax on private education and the scope of home foreclosures in cases of non-performing bank loans.

In public however, the two ministers focused on bilateral Greece-Germany relations, with both underlining the need to transcend stereotypes and prejudices, often magnified by the media.

Kotzias spoke of a need to revive the type of friendly sentiments that Greeks harboured decades ago when they flocked to Germany for work.

Steinmeier underlined the need to restore mutual trust between Berlin and Athens, noting that this is necessary in politics and diplomacy, as well as in handling the repercussions of the ongoing economic crisis.

The German foreign minister maintained that closer cultural relations are key in building understanding. He noted that 3,000 Greek students currently attend German universities and expressed hopes that the number might grow.

In that context, Steinmeier proposed the creation of a bilateral youth office that could serve to strengthen ties, just as Germany had done with France when relations were strained, a half century ago.

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