Chancellor Angela Merkel pays her first visit to Greece since the onset of the euro crisis today amid growing uncertainty over the country's bailout and dire warnings from her own party that no "presents" should be given to Athens to help it overcome its worsening financial emergency.
The German leader's one-day visit comes amid fears of violent demonstrations on the streets of Athens in protest against her insistence on tough Greek austerity measures. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' government has put more than 7,000 police and riot control units on duty for the length of her stay.
Ms Merkel travels to Athens less than 24 hours after the launch of the eurozone's new €500bn (£404bn) permanent bailout facility, the European Stability Mechanism, which Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the euro group, yesterday hailed as "an historic milestone in shaping the future of monetary union".
Germany is scheduled to make the largest contribution to the fund of around 27 per cent. But on the eve of her departure to Greece, Ms Merkel's own MPs were adamant that she should make no further concessions to Mr Samaras despite his repeated pleas for a two-year extension to his government's reform deadline.
Volker Kauder, parliamentary leader of Ms Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats, warned the Chancellor yesterday: "The purpose of the visit is not to bring presents to the Greeks. The Greeks would do best if they kept to what has been agreed."
His words were echoed by Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's veteran conservative Finance Minister. "The truth is that Greece has no other option to get its industry and its finances in good enough order to be able to refinance itself on the markets at a reasonable interest rate at least by 2020," he told Berlin Inforadio news channel.
The Samaras government is struggling to implement a €11.5bn savings programme it must fulfil in order to gain its next €31.5bn tranche of EU bailout funding. However, the country's budget deficit is reported to be almost double the amount the government initially acknowledged and there are doubts about its ability to deliver. Mr Samaras has made several appeals for more time to implement austerity measures.
Last week he told Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper that the combination of economic crisis, austerity measures and rising unemployment were severely undermining social cohesion and creating conditions comparable with "the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany".
"There is something in our country which has never existed before – a growing extreme right, one could say fascist neo-Nazi party," he said in a reference to Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party, which is currently the third largest in the Athens parliament.
Ms Merkel radically altered her attitude to Greece following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's insistence that the EU and the bank would do everything possible to keep Greece in the eurozone. She now insists that she and her government wholly support this view, yet she has many critics within her own coalition and public opinion is divided on the issue.
The German Chancellor, who has been compared to Hitler in Greek newspaper caricatures, is not expected to make any concessions to Mr Samaras on her visit. Berlin has insisted all along that it will not consider any new moves before the "Troika" of experts from the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the ECB have assessed Athens' progress in implementing its reforms.Reuse content