Over 6,000 Cops Will Protect Merkel On Her 6 Hour Visit To Athens
Angela Merkel is finally coming to the one country where the local media will not tire of photoshopping her in various Nazi outfits. The result: at least 6,000 policemen (and more like 7,000 according to Spiegel) will be deployed to protect her on her 6 hour visit to Greece on Tuesday, the first since the crisis erupted in 2009, and which has seen Greek unemployment explode from manageable to 25% at last check. Another result: parties from across the spectrum have said they will protest her visit, and strikes will further shut down what is already a completely shuttered economy. "She does not come to support Greece, which her policies have brought to the brink. She comes to save the corrupt, disgraced and servile political system," said Alexis Tsipras, who leads the opposition Syriza alliance. "We will give her the welcome she deserves."..."We don't want her here," said Yannis Georgiou, 72, who has seen his pension cut by one third. "We will take to the streets against austerity and against the government. Maybe Merkel will hear something and see what we're going through." Finally, with virtually the entire police force tasked with defending M erkel from the residents of her Southeastern European colony, it means that virtually every other place of interest will be left unguarded. Hopefully, nobody in Greece has seen Die Hard with a Vengeance and has access to dump trucks. The one thing Greece has going for it: there is virtually no official gold left anywhere that can be stolen (most of it already has been transferred elsewhere), or otherwise any tourist armed with a camera and located in the vicinity of the National Bank of Greece could film a sequel to what many consider the best Die Hard of all.
About 6,000 policemen will be deployed in the capital for her 6-hour visit, turning the city centre into a no-go zone for protest marches planned by labour unions and opposition parties.
Merkel's visit is a sign of Germany's support for the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as it struggles to agree new budget cuts with international lenders, overcome the objections of reluctant coalition partners and cope with rising public anger.
After toying with the idea of a Greek exit from the euro zone in the first half of 2012, Merkel has come full circle and decided the risks of the country leaving are too high, especially with a German election looming next year.
The trip is a sign of German solidarity, a message to the Greek leadership and people that Berlin does not want to cut them loose, and a signal to the members of Merkel's coalition who want Greece out that it's not going to happen soon.
At the same time, the trip shows Merkel's trust in Samaras. Aides to the chancellor say they have been positively surprised by his commitment to reform. One reason for not visiting Greece before was frustration with progress under his predecessors, technocrat Lucas Papademos and Socialist George Papandreou.
The Greek government was ecstatic about the news, promising to treat Merkel with the honours befitting the leader of a great nation. Greek officials credited Samaras's charm offensive in Berlin in August for Germany's change of heart.
"Samaras showed a real will to change things. He stressed what Greece had to do, not what others had to do for Greece," a Greek government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Merkel is scheduled to meet Samaras, President Karolos Papoulias and representatives of Greek industry.
In a measure of tension between Athens and Berlin earlier this year, Papoulias accused Merkel's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of insulting the country by likening Greece to a bottomless pit.
The locals are hardly as excited as their politicians, who, just like in the US, are merely doing all they can to perpetuate a status quo that afford them to retain their wealth. For now.
The tone was more subdued in the newspapers on Sunday. To Proto Thema ran a "HEIL" headline but most others called on Merkel to take a hard look at the suffering of Greek people during her visit.
"Tell Merkel the truth," wrote Nikos Hatzinikolaou in Real News. "With unemployment at 25 percent and recession at 7 percent, for a fifth year, can lenders expect the country to survive and pay back its debts?"
The visit gives Merkel a chance to get a first-hand view of a country that could have a major influence on her own re-election hopes.
Greece is stuck in tough negotiations with inspectors from the "troika" of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank over a fresh wave of 11.5 billion euros in cuts for the next two years, a condition for getting an installment of the 130 billion euro bailout which is keeping the country afloat.
As difficult as these talks are, lenders are now realising Greece needs more time, money or both. The IMF wants official lenders such as Germany to take a "haircut" under which the value of the Greek debt they hold would be radically reduced. Private bondholders have already swallowed such a hit but EU partners prefer other measures than to suffer more losses.
In order to avoid going back to parliament to request a third rescue for Athens - a step Merkel allies acknowledge could be political suicide for her - Germany will probably have to agree to other concessions to plug a hole in Greece's finances.
These could include giving Samaras an extra two years to make painful cuts and agreeing to a reduction in the interest rates Athens pays on its EU loans.
These could... although an extension is just as likely to be political suicide as per recent German political rhetoric. The best Greece can hope for is that nothing happens until the US election in November, which should be feasible. Recently Greece said it has enough cash to last it for another 3 weeks. After that an already belligerent Troika will return and likely make it clear that just like in the case of Lehman, everyone is now quite well provisioned for a Greek departure from the Eurozone. The only question question then is whether the other countries will follow suit in Greece's footsteps. Ideally, the answer for the continent which has long ago run out of assets that can be pledged for new debt, is yes. Realistically, the tragicomedy will continue as long as the last euro can be transferred from the near annihilated middle class, to the offshore bank accounts of the wealthiest, and the bankers of course.