Greek PM visits Bavaria on charm offensive

MUNICH Sun Dec 9, 2012 11:02am EST

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MUNICH Dec 9 (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he was looking forward to a "new start" in Greece's relations with the conservative German state of Bavaria, one of his country's harshest critics, ahead of his visit there on Sunday.

Samaras' trip to meet with Bavaria's State Premier Horst Seehofer is another sign of the new thaw in Greek-German relations that started when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens in October this year and was convinced of Greek government's commitment to painful reforms.

Samaras told the Muenchner Merkur newspaper in an interview published in its weekend edition: "We are partners, we share the same values and ideals."

"We have nothing to hide from each other, but a lot to gain when we talk. I'm looking forward to a new start in our relations."

Merkel and her centre-right government have taken a much more conciliatory tone on Greece, a country previously branded a "bottomless pit" by some of her lawmakers, focusing instead on the progress made by Greece and the suffering of its citizens as tough reforms bite.

Seehofer and his Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel's conservatives, have fallen into line behind the Chancellor, acknowledging that bailing out Greece is less costly than the chaos that would follow if it left the euro zone.

Previously CSU deputies had taken a tough stance, repeatedly calling for Greece to be thrown out of the euro zone, suggesting its civil servants be paid in drachmas and likening bailing out Greece to "watering flowers in the desert".

Samaras visit to Bavaria comes little under two weeks after Greece's international creditors clinched agreement on reducing the country's debt, allowing the release of urgently needed loans to keep the near-bankrupt economy afloat.

On Saturday a Greek government official said the country was set to buy back around half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the bailout.

Bavarians consider themselves passionate Europeans and readily admit they have benefited hugely from the euro zone, with the larger part of their goods and services exported to the region. Yet the affluent state, where traditional values are held dear, is also proud of its balanced budget and has little time for profligacy.

Travelling to Bavaria to face his critics is the latest move in Samaras' charm offensive with the German public. In an interview with mass-market newspaper Bild three days ago he said he aimed to bring about a "spectacular" transformation in Greece and that more had been achieved in the last two months than in the previous three decades.

"We're working on a success story. Everyone will realise that soon," he said in the interview.

Behind the scenes Germany has long been trying to promote projects and corporate networks that can bring German business acumen to Greece as well as twinning towns to try and bring Germans and Greeks closer together.

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