As Merkel makes her final visit to Greece, the two countries turn the page.
Angela Merkel’s final visit to Athens as chancellor on Friday will mark an end to a frequently tense chapter in relations between Greece and Germany.
Merkel said relations with Athens “went through ups and downs, but are based on solid foundations” during a meeting with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
“What kept us going during this period… was the sense that we belonged together,” the chancellor stated through a translator.
German financial prudence irritated Greeks, who made Merkel and her then-finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble the targets of their wrath as the country was battered by the financial crisis that prompted the European Union to implement harsh austerity measures during the financial crisis of 2008.
Sakellaropoulou, a former senior judge who oversaw some of the bailout cuts, told Merkel that Greece had “paid a terrible price” and had felt “justifiably alone” among EU peers at times.
However, later events, such as Germany’s assistance during the 2015 migratory crisis, have “contributed to mutual understanding,” according to the Greek president.
Merkel was labeled by the German newspaper Bild as “one of Greece’s most despised women” during a visit to Athens in 2012.
Merkel admitted in September that “the most difficult period of my reign was when I demanded so much from Greece.”
Beginning in 2010, Merkel pressed Greece’s then-Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou to enact strong austerity measures to reduce the country’s ballooning public debt.
In exchange for 300 billion euros (now $370 billion) in foreign bailout monies, the Greek government agreed to harsh budget cuts and tax rises.
Pensions were halved, and the minimum monthly pay was reduced to less than 600 euros, triggering a wave of privatizations.
In addition, public sector and hospital personnel levels were decreased, and there were shortages of medicines and other supplies.
Merkel confronted demonstrators wielding Nazi swastika flags and portrayals of her as a Hitler caricature at the height of the crisis in 2012.
Tensions were practically palpable after socialist radical Alexis Tsipras was elected Prime Minister in January 2015.
Tsipras famously begged Merkel to “go back” months before he became prime minister.
Athens was on the verge of being booted out of the euro at the time, but eventually surrendered to creditors’ pressure and agreed to further austerity measures.
Merkel’s popularity in Greece remains low as she leaves office after 16 years.
A poll by Pew Research Center was conducted in. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.