German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she was "extraordinarily impressed" by Portugal's reform efforts as she met the bailed-out eurozone country's prime minister. Merkel told a joint press conference with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coehlo in Berlin that Portugal had undergone a drastic reform process that had placed a heavy burden on its people. "One can say today that growth can be seen, that the economic data have strongly improved, and very positively point to the future," she said. "That's also being seen in the development of interest rates for government bonds." International creditors granted Portugal a 78-billion-euro ($108-billion) IMF-EU aid programme in May 2011 which is about to come to an end. It had sought the rescue to avert default after decades of ballooning wages and state spending had led to a build-up of public debt. The Portuguese prime minister told reporters that the "hardest part of the crisis is already behind us". "We've managed to press ahead with a structural change in Portugal," he said, highlighting that Portugal's attractiveness for foreign investors had increased and the growth outlook for this and coming years was very positive. Expressing her "esteem" for what Portugal had achieved, Merkel stressed that decisions regarding Portugal's exit in May from the rescue programme lay with its government. Portugal must decide on its strategy for exiting the bailout programme, with or without a safety net, by May 17. On Monday Merkel, who was a tough austerity champion during the eurozone crisis, met Italy's new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and said she was impressed by the country's stimulus and reform package.