German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that her “heart bleeds” at the hardships faced by many Greeks as the government in Athens imposes the austerity measures demanded by the troika but insisted that reforms are necessary to keep Greece in the eurozone. Merkel dodged questions during an annual news conference on domestic and foreign policy as to whether Greece might be given more time to implement unpopular cost-cutting plans and structural reforms, pointing to a report from Greece’s international debt inspectors that is expected next month as the basis for decisions.
Merkel said she wants Greece to stay in the eurozone, adding: «I think that everyone who is politically sensible will want that, too."
The German leader pointed to the importance of structural reforms for Greece’s progress.
"In some cases, this is about reforms that, I think, wouldn't bring any extra burden for the population,» she said, citing planned «organizational improvements» to the tax system and labor market.
"I don't think it helps to revolt against measures that have to be taken anyway,» Merkel said. «And with some measures, I say that if they have to be taken, quicker is perhaps better than too slowly."
She defended her role in the eurozone crisis Monday against angry citizens of debt-mired nations, saying her tough austerity course was the only way to win back trust.
Merkel said that she was aware of the ire directed at her over the euro turmoil, with protesters in ailing countries shouting her name and newspapers likening her to Hitler.
But she insisted that although Germany had an outsized role to play as Europe's biggest economy, crisis-fighting was a collaborative effort among leaders who had the single currency's best interest at heart.
"In my travels I have often been asked how do you deal with negative feelings because some people think that I am more responsible than others for decisions we've made together,» she said.
"In Greece, some people tend to forget that I didn't think up these programmes but rather that they're all from the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF (International Monetary Fund),» she said, referring to the troika of international creditors.
"I didn't invent them, I couldn't just think up such economic programmes even if I wanted to,» she said.
"So I always say, I'm not doing this to annoy anyone but because I'm strongly convinced that Europe can only maintain its prosperity and see its interests realised if it overcomes its crisis in such a way that it is better able to compete and solve our debt problems."
Merkel added of her fellow European leaders: «We work very well together and try to find good solutions together,» she said, highlighting in particular the Franco-German axis of cooperation.
She acknowledged that the road to recovery was arduous and renewed an expression of sympathy for the Greek people over the biting reforms required to pull them out of the debt quicksand.
But she said she believed that cutting spending and restructuring economies to improve competitiveness were the sole way to restore confidence in the eurozone.