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German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference after talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Chancellery in Berlin on August 24, 2012. (THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference after talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Chancellery in Berlin on August 24, 2012. (THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

‘Every day’ counts for Greece’s austerity steps: Merkel Add to ...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday warned that “every day” counts in efforts by debt-wracked Greece to comply with its commitments and safeguard its euro zone membership.

“In this context, every day counts now to really strengthen efforts and apply what has been promised,” Ms. Merkel told ARD public television when asked about how confident she was in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

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Ms. Merkel said that much confidence had been lost over the past two and a half years and reiterated the need to now wait for a progress report, due next month, by Greece’s international creditors.

“Like others I have said to the Greek prime minister that there is still a lot to do,” she said.

As part of a €130-billion bailout package from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, Greece has committed to sweeping reforms and some €11.5-billion of cuts in 2013 and 2014.

A positive report from the so-called Troika – the European Commission, IMF and the European Central Bank – is essential for Greece to get the next €31.5-billion instalment of funds to keep it afloat.

After some members of her centre-right coalition have spoken publicly of a possible Greek exit from the euro zone or have appeared skeptical over a solution, Ms. Merkel said that Europe was in a “decisive” phase.

“We are at the moment in a very decisive phase in fighting the European debt crisis,” she said.

And she cautioned that everyone should pay attention to what they say.

In Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Alexander Dobrindt, the secretary general of the Christian Social Union, a junior coalition partner, said he saw Greece leaving the euro next year.

In recent months, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, who is also Ms. Merkel’s vice chancellor and leader of another junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, has voiced doubts about Greece’s shot of holding onto the euro.

And Markus Soeder, a leading member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said further aid to Greece would be like “pouring water on the desert”.

The German chancellor, who last week was again voted the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes magazine, offered Greece a ray of hope on Friday, stressing she wanted it to stay in the euro zone and pledging German help after talks with Mr. Samaras in Berlin.

After German central bank chief Jens Weidmann reiterated in Spiegel news weekly his criticism of any plan by the ECB to buy member states’ bonds to drive down their crippling borrowing costs, Ms. Merkel welcomed his repeated insistence of Germany’s position.

“One should not underestimate the danger that financing by central banks can get one hooked like a drug,” Mr. Weidmann warned after the ECB suggested early August it could start unlimited buying of stricken member states’ bonds.

Without confirming a press report that she wants to convene a European summit to draw up a new treaty, Ms. Merkel said: “I’m not asking for a summit, I’ve just, for a while now, been asking that we don’t come to a standstill” in the process of building up the EU.

“It’s a question of knowing now what the next steps are,” she said, adding more joint commitments and more coherence were called for in order to reduce differences in competitiveness within the EU.

“That’s going to be our mission of the next months,” she said.

Spiegel news weekly reported Sunday that Ms. Merkel has called for a new EU treaty for further European integration but is facing lukewarm interest from her EU partners.

Turning to a ruling due on September 12 by Germany’s top court on draft laws concerning Europe’s fiscal pact for greater budgetary discipline and its 500-billion-euro ($611-billion) permanent bailout fund to aid debt-mired euro zone countries, Ms. Merkel called them “absolutely necessary” tools.

The rescue shield cannot come into force without the ratification of Europe’s top economic power but the Constitutional Court must still rule on legal challenges to the euro crisis-fighting tools.

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