Greece and Germany have put any turbulence in their relations behind them and are now “sailing in calm waters,” the German Ambassador in Athens Jens Ploetner said in an interview published on Saturday. He also expressed optimism that Greece will succeed in its efforts to exit the financial assistance programme in August and saw the start of economic recovery for the country.
“I have the sense, after eight months as ambassador in Athens, …that we can now work on the important and worthwhile issues throughout the spectrum of our relations, since there is much we can build upon,” he said.
On Greece’s exit from the programme, he noted that the country had made “steady and very important steps” in this direction, especially in the last two years, and undisputable progress on a number of issues.
“On certain other issues it became clear that it is a matter of generations but I think that no one should underestimate all thas has been achieved until now. For this reason, I have the impression that the odds for a successful end to the programme in August are good and, if we exploit these final six months in order to again make important steps, the prospects are very good,” he said.
Whether this would be a “clean” or “halfway” exit was a largely artificial question, according to the ambassador, since Greece would not find itself in a vacuum after the programme ended but continue to be subject to rules, as was the case for Portugal, Spain and Ireland. He clarified, however, that this would not be the programme under another name but a “new era that had its own rules”.
Asked whether this meant continued surveillance for Greece, Ploetner pointed out that all Eurozone countries were essentially under surveillance from Brussels, while Greece will continue to have a high debt in comparison with other countries after the programme ended. As long as its debt remained high, the normal rules that applied for all EU countries in this condition will apply, he said.
More important than the question of surveillance, according to the ambassador, was that of reforms to build an efficient and sustainable health system, effective public administration in the service of citizens and to fight financial mismanagement to build a modern, efficiently functioning state.
Asked whether Germany’s new finance minister, Olaf Scholz, was likely to adopt policies that will be welcomed by Greeks and “win their hearts,” the ambassador pointed out that Germany’s bilateral policy toward Greece will not be “Scholz’s policy” but that of the entire German government.
“This will have several aspects: cooperation within the European Union, especially economic and monetary [union], the Eurozone that is part of this and for which Olaf Scholz will be responsible. But we also want to work [even] more closely on foreign policy also, on the Middle East and Turkey,” he pointed out, noting that other ministers were in charge of these areas.
“In all these issues there will be a continuity, a continuation of the stable, reliable relationship between [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras and [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel,” he added.
Asked whether Scholz would adopt a different policy toward Greece than his predecessor Wolfgang Schaeuble, the Ploetner noted that Schaeuble’s policy was not a “personal affair” but based on the consensus view of the German parliament and the parties participating in the German coalition government.
Talking about potential German investments, Ploetner pointed to German companies that remained loyal to Greece during the crisis and four new companies that had chosen to invest in the country, noting that this was “a start” and indicated that “we are at the start of a recovery, that there is new interest in Greece.”
The ambassador also referred to the refugee crisis, noting that this must remain a top priority for Europe since the crisis in Syria “is anything but over”. Germany believed in the need for a solution with solidarity, he added, and saw the refugee issue as a “European problem that required a European solution”.
Asked about the two Greek soldiers being held in prison in Turkey, awaiting trial after accidentally straying across the border line during a regular border patrol, the ambassador said it was “deplorable” that this incident involving two allies in NATO had not yet been resolved, expressing hope for a solution soon.
On Turkish activity disrupting efforts by Cyprus to carry out exploratory drilling for natural gas in its EEZ, the ambassador called for continued efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem in order to avoid further tensions in a region that already brimming with tension, due to the conflicts in Syria and the problems in the Middle East.
“We would do well to continue these efforts, to resolve this difficult matter through dialogue and consensus. If we do not relax these efforts, then I hope that such issues can be resolved without war ships but at the negotiating table,” he said.
He welcomed the efforts launched by Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to try and resolve the name dispute, noting that a solution would be beneficial to both countries. While FYROM would immediately gain, through the removal of obstacles to its joining the EU and NATO, Greece would also “regain its natural role as core country for the region and an economic hub for the western Balkans,” Ploetner suggested.
The German government supported both Athens and Skopje in taking the actions required to arrive at a solution and such an outcome would benefit both the two countries and all of Europe, he said.
On the problem of irredentism in the Balkan region, including FYROM, the ambassador noted that this could not be eliminated by “pressing a button or changing laws” but was part of a long process of rapprochement and understanding. FYROM’s dedication to becoming part of Europe was the best guarantee for Greece, he said.
On what Europe can expected from the new coalition government formed in Germany, Ploetner pointed out that the first chapter of the 120-page coalition agreement was dedicated to Europe and made a clear commitment to Europe and European unification as the future.
“The good news that we have now, I think, is that we have a government that wants more Europe in principle and is pro-European,” he said.