ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will take his anti-austerity drive to Berlin next week, hoping to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept his reform plans and renegotiate Greece’s huge bailout.
Following a telephone call between the two leaders on Monday, Tsipras’s office said Merkel had invited the newly elected Greek prime minister to Germany for talks on March 23.
The invitation comes against the backdrop of increasing friction between the two nations, with Berlin alarmed by the prospect of Athens not honoring past financial pledges and Greece seeing Germany as the main defender of tough austerity.
Their meeting will come just days after a March 19-20 EU summit in Brussels, where Tsipras appears confident he can persuade the euro zone to revise the terms of a 240-billion euro bailout program and put more emphasis on economic growth.
“Whatever obstacles we may encounter in our negotiating effort, we will not return to the policies of austerity,” Tsipras told daily Ethnos in an interview published on Monday, blaming budget rigor for Greece’s record high unemployment.
Although Greece secured in February a four-month extension to its bailout program, the accord did not give Athens access to funds already pledged to it from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund, leaving it facing a cash crunch.
Asked whether he had an alternative plan if his partners continued to refuse Greece leeway on its funding needs, Tsipras said he was confident the matter would be settled this week.
“I don’t believe we will need to apply alternative plans because the issue will be solved at a political level by the end of the week in the run up to the EU summit, or, if necessary, at the EU summit (itself),” he told the paper.
Hinting at a possible compromise, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Friday the government was prepared to delay some promised anti-austerity measures to win EU backing.
Asked whether such a delay was possible, Tsipras said: “This program has a four year time span, and will be implemented fully. The way in which we spread out our work over time depends to a certain extent on the course of the negotiations.”
Tsipras has already traveled to Cyprus, Rome, Paris and Brussels to see various leaders, but his meeting with Merkel in Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, might prove decisive.
His new government has clashed repeatedly with Germany since winning election in January, and Tsipras himself angered Berlin last week by accusing previous German governments of using “legal tricks” to avoid paying World War Two reparations.
Varoufakis tangled yet again with Berlin on Monday after German television aired a 2013 video purportedly showing him making a rude gesture towards Germany. He said the video was fake, but a senior German politician said he was lying.
Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Costas Pitas; editing by Ralph Boulton