German Chancellor Angela Merkel applauded Greece for its “step toward normalcy” after the nation’s sale of sovereign debt this week returned it to the market following four years of bailouts and austerity.
Meeting in Athens with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras today, Merkel yesterday announced 100 million euros ($139 million) in loans for small-business financing through a development bank. Any decisions on debt relief or additional funding will have to wait as European negotiators decide the next step, she said.
“You’ll be able to leave the rescue umbrella step by step. All I can say is I’m glad,” Merkel told reporters in the Greek capital. The debt sale means “we can return to a zone where we can deal with problems other than bond yields.”
Revisiting the nation where the European debt crisis began, Merkel earlier said she was “absolutely certain” Greece will overcome unemployment and stagnation, after years of German-led austerity measures contributed to a jobless rate of almost 27 percent. Merkel has pointed to signs of recovery across Europe in the countries that were hit by the turmoil.
Asked what she would say to Greeks who can’t find a job, Merkel said she would tell them that “it’s indeed been a difficult path and one with many sacrifices, but this path could only have been taken because there was solidarity in Europe.”
Greece may need another round of international aid depending on how conditions look in a few months, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said yesterday in an interview.
Samaras, standing beside Merkel, showcased his country’s return to debt markets. Greece sold 3 billion euros in five-year bonds at a coupon of 4.75 percent April 10. Orders exceeded 20 billion euros, Samaras said the same day.
“The markets voted for Greece,” Samaras told reporters, predicting that yields will fall further.
Merkel’s visit to Athens contrasts with her last trip in October 2012, when anti-austerity protesters massed outside the Greek parliament and placed the capital in lockdown.
Still, an estimated 1,500 people demonstrated against Merkel’s visit at a downtown square just beyond the limit of a no-protest zone set up by the government.
“We are against Merkel’s appearance because she represents the European policy of austerity,” Jason Schinas, a 26-year-old unemployed Athenian and supporter of the main opposition Syriza party, said in an interview during the demonstration. “We are against Samaras because he has chosen to follow that policy.”
A car bomb exploded outside a central-bank building in Athens April 10 in a reminder of the upheaval affecting the EU’s most indebted country. Nobody was injured.