* Greek PM charms former critics in southern German state
* Bavarian Premier praises scale of Greek reforms
* Visit part of a new conciliatory tone in Greek-German ties
By Irene Preisinger
MUNICH, Dec 9 Greek Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras visited Bavaria on Sunday, charming former critics of
Greece in the southern German state who once wished to eject his
country from the euro zone, and departing with pledges of
solidarity and support.
Samaras' visit to Munich and dinner with Bavaria's State
Premier Horst Seehofer on Sunday night was another sign of the
new thaw in Greek-German relations that started when Chancellor
Angela Merkel visited Athens in October and was convinced of
Athens' commitment to painful reforms.
"We want to support the Greek government and the Greek
people, and help them gain economic growth and competitiveness,"
Seehofer said at a press conference with Samaras.
Seehofer added the Greeks deserved deep respect for their
achievements. "They are on a good way to overcoming the causes
of the crisis."
Samaras' trip was partly a charm offensive in one of
Germany's most conservative and affluent areas, as well as a
plea to international creditors to keep the faith in Athens'
"To force an upswing, we need blood and air, which keeps the
economy alive, and that is liquidity," Samaras said.
His visit to Bavaria came little under two weeks after
Greece's international creditors clinched an agreement on
reducing the country's debt, allowing the release of urgently
needed loans to keep the near-bankrupt economy afloat.
The Greek Prime Minister added that a debt buy back that is
key to the bail out was going very well.
"I believe that by Monday or Tuesday, I will be able to say
with great certainty that things went very well," he said.
Merkel and her centre-right government have taken a much
more conciliatory tone on Greece - a country which had been
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".
Seehofer pledged that a "more open, sensitive and sensible
tone" should dominate in the debate on Greece.
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.
Samaras told the Muenchner Merkur local newspaper in an
interview published in its weekend edition Bavarians and Greeks
shared 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
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.