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Central Bank: there is no ‘Plan B’ for Greece

The European Central Bank is not working on any alternative plan to Greece staying in the single currency a top official said on Monday, dismissing ideas that a “Plan B” was in development.

Central Bank: there is no 'Plan B' for Greece
Photo: DPA

The ECB’s “preference is that Greece remains in the eurozone. That’s the Plan A, that’s what we’re working on,” executive board member Jörg Asmussen told a conference in the German capital.

Asked whether the central bank also had a “Plan B”, Asmussen replied: “There’s already been criticism that there is none. But as soon as you start talking about ‘plan B’ or ‘plan C’ then ‘plan A’ is automatically thrown out of the window.”

In inconclusive elections on May 6, the majority of Greeks voted against the tough spending cuts and tax hikes prescribed as part of a debt bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Greece will now go into a second election in six weeks on June 17, with the vote shaping up as a straight choice – accept the bitter medicine and stay in the euro bloc, or refuse it and face the consequences.

Asmussen also said that the ECB remained opposed to any easing of tough fiscal rules agreed by EU leaders earlier this year.

The fiscal pact “must not be renegotiated or watered down,” the ECB board member insisted, but noted that member states concerned could complement the accord with a package of growth measures.

These could include, for example, moves to improve the functioning of the single market, particularly in the area of services, labour market reforms and the financing of infrastructure projects, Asmussen suggested.

Suggestions that budgetary consolidation and growth were mutually exclusive were “wrong”, he said.

“No-one in Europe is opposed to growth,” the official insisted, pointing to Germany as an example of a country which is currently reaping the benefits of tough reforms implemented a number of years ago.

AFP/hc

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IMMIGRATION

‘I’d do it again’: Refugees reflect on their journey to Germany five years on

German Gracia Schuette and Syrian Aeham Ahmad both had their lives changed forever by Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 to leave Germany's doors open to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

'I'd do it again': Refugees reflect on their journey to Germany five years on
Syrian pianist Aeham Ahmad while still living in a hostel in 2016. Photo: Daniel Roland/AFP
In August of that year, Schuette joined thousands of volunteers serving ladles of hot soup to exhausted migrant families arriving at Munich's main train station.
   
Having been held in Hungary after travelling the length of Europe, trains overflowing with refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan had begun arriving at the station in a seemingly endless convoy.
   
Ahmad was a passenger on one of them. The Syrian pianist with Palestinian roots arrived in Munich on September 23.
   
A month earlier, he had left Yarmouk, a sprawling neighbourhood in the south of Damascus, after swathes of the area were occupied by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
   
He left behind his wife and two boys, still too young to embark on such a perilous journey.
   
Now 32, Ahmad has built a career for himself that involves travelling all over Europe and as far afield as Japan to give concerts.
   
At the station in Munich, where the volunteers once served hot soup, a Covid-19 test centre now stands.
 
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Gracia Schuette stands at the main train station in Munich, the arrival place of many refugees in 2015. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP
 
'Gratitude'
 
Schuette, 36, says the experience changed her attitude to life and taught her “gratitude and the awareness that despite everything that happens in Germany, it is still a very safe country”.
   
Ahmad speaks to AFP from a train heading to the north of Germany, where he is due to give a concert.
   
He remembers his first days in Germany as a time of great confusion. Like tens of thousands of other Syrians arriving in the country, he had only one word on his lips: “Alemania!” — Germany.
   
“After I arrived in Munich, I was sent to several emergency reception centres and then to Wiesbaden” near Frankfurt, where he and his uncle were given a room in a hostel, he says in a mixture of English and German.
   
He remembers the “extreme kindness” shown by volunteers like Schuette — “that community of people who said, 'We have to help'”.
   
For Schuette, it was important to feel that she was “not just a spectator” watching events unfold but willing to “act decisively” by helping to distribute basic necessities or set up camp beds.
   
Today, she works as an administrator for a kindergarten. But she has maintained her commitment to helping refugees — so much so that she has even taken three young people into her home, one of whom still lives with her.
   
Having been granted refugee status a year after his arrival in Germany, Ahmad was joined by his wife and children.
   
The family have since moved to Warburg, a town in northwestern Germany, and seven months ago welcomed a new baby girl.
   
While still in Syria, Ahmad had made a name for himself on social media with videos of songs performed amid the ruins of his ravaged home country.
 
 
'No accent'
 
In Germany, he began to sing songs about homesickness, with the aim of raising awareness in his new country and the rest of Europe of “this stupid war” that has devastated Syria for more than nine years.
   
Today, he aspires to “bring cultures together, to create a dialogue between Eastern and Western music”.
   
Having given more than 720 concerts, he has at times felt exhausted. But “anything is better than living off state subsidies” as he did during his first months in Germany, he believes.
   
If Schuette could go back and do it all again, she would.
   
“I don't think I would be someone who just says, 'It's going to work out and everything's going to be great.' You have to be realistic,” she said, pointing to the difficulties of integration. “But there's no doubt about it: I'd do it again.”
   
Ahmad, too, avoids painting a rose-tinted picture of his story. His generation, he says, will be scarred for life by the horrors of war and the  difficulties of adapting to life in exile.
   
But there is pride in his voice as he reveals that his two sons already speak German “without the slightest accent”.
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