A pivotal meeting | eKathimerini.com
Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Greek Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos (left) meet in Brussels in May 2012.
Following the elections of May 2012, which ended in an impasse for the formation of a new government, at the head of the Council of State, I was sworn in as interim Prime Minister to lead the country towards new elections. The situation was, if not bleak, at least critical. My country was threatened with bankruptcy and our relations with Europe and its leaders were almost severed. My visit to Brussels for the extraordinary summit was therefore of crucial importance. I had to win the trust of European leaders, and in particular German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who played a decisive role.
I tried to arrange a meeting with her, which was no small feat, as I was practically unknown to other European leaders. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis had first contact with the Chancellor during the NATO summit in Chicago and requested the meeting. My friend and then Deputy Secretary of the German Government Thomas Rachel, whom I had also asked for help, played a key role. He sent a message with a few kind words about me to the Chancellor and after a while he informed me that a date was scheduled.
When I arrived in Brussels, I was very anxious about the seriousness of the stakes. The tension that had developed in our relations with the European Union was evident during my meeting with President José Manuel Barroso. He was very aggressive against Greece, which provoked me. On the contrary, President Herman Van Rompuy was extremely kind and very helpful. He even gave me the draft conclusions, so that we could work on them and submit our comments.
In view of this, I arrived at the meeting with the Chancellor much calmer. To break the ice, I had prepared a friendly welcome in German. My knowledge of the language was greatly appreciated by her so we agreed that interpretation was not needed and that we could move on to our discussions using both German and English.
She first asked me for my opinion on the situation in Greece. He was particularly worried about the rise of Golden Dawn. I explained that my country needs both support and financial help from the EU. I described the political climate in Greece, stressing that any form of political intervention would not be beneficial.
She listened to me attentively and assured me that, despite what was said, she had never thought of intervening in the developments and affairs of the Greek state, although she described to me her difficult relationship with Greek politicians and his frustration with the way some of them behaved. I defended them.
I then asked the Chancellor to treat me the same way she would treat a judge of the German Supreme Court. I underlined that in my capacity as judge, I understood exactly the meaning of “pacta sunt servanda” (which was constantly repeated to me during my visit to Brussels) and that I intended to respect what had been agreed, to provided of course that this would not lead to an economic catastrophe for my country or to the division and dissolution of Greek society.
The Chancellor reassured me about her decision to support Greece and asked me what more she could do. As we had agreed with all the political parties, I asked him two things: a) the project obligations for investments and projects and, b) the granting of loans by the European Investment Bank. She promised that she would grant them and I have to admit that she kept her word. So, later at the summit, when other countries asked for a large participation in the project bonds, she looked at me and said in a shrill voice that after consultation with the Greek Prime Minister, these would be allocated in priority to Greece.
At the end of the meeting, she escorted me outside and told me that we could keep in touch until the election. The meeting, initially scheduled to last 15 minutes, ended up lasting almost 50 minutes, causing outsiders to question what was going on behind closed doors. I left feeling better, because I thought I had succeeded in winning the Chancellor’s confidence and her support for my country in these difficult times.
After the meeting, Ι spoke on the phone with the Chancellor on several occasions about upcoming issues and ongoing developments. She always listened to me attentively and expressed her point of view calmly, politely, but also decisively. I could add a few other things that we discussed, for example our conversation about football, but now is not the time to do so.
No one, not even her most vocal critics, questions the fact that the Chancellor has kept her country united and led Europe in these difficult times of crisis. She wisely tipped the scales during an eventful time. She handled different situations and people with patience and method. Despite all her politeness and cordial nature, she had an iron determination and perseverance to run things as she saw fit. You could tell she was slow to make decisions, awaiting developments, but when she did, she was firm in her opinion. In this context, she was sometimes able to delay, having also needed pressure from the other side of the Atlantic to help Greece. But when she made the decision, she followed it steadily to the end, despite sometimes great difficulties, and she exhausted all reserves for Greece to stay in Europe.
Personally, I have a very good impression and fond memories of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom I consider to be a great politician.
Panagiotis Pikrammenos is a Greek judge and politician who is currently Deputy Prime Minister of Greece.