Berlin ‘will work closely with new Greek govt’

Germany will work closely with Greece's new government under left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras, both on its debt troubles and on the migrant crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Monday.

Berlin 'will work closely with new Greek govt'
Alexis Tsipras. Photo: DPA

“Of course the government will work closely and in the spirit of partnership with the new Greek government,” said the spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

“This offer applies both to jointly overcoming the debt crisis, and to the challenges posed by the refugee situation, for which we need common answers.”

Tsipras is almost certain to have been re-elected as Prime Minister, as with 50 percent of ballots counted in Greece's general election on Monday, his Syriza party led conservative challengers New Democracy with 35.5 percent to 28 percent of the vote.

The fact that Tsipras won so comprehensively has surprised many commentators who consider a bailout deal signed with creditors in July to be proof he reneged on promises made to the Greek electorate upon his election to office in January. 

Greece, which has suffered five years of economic crisis, in July signed a third loans-for-reforms deal with international creditors, saving it from a chaotic exit from the eurozone.

It has also been a frontline country as Europe faces its biggest migrant crisis in decades, with tens of thousands of people fleeing the Syrian war and other conflicts landing on Greek islands close to Turkey.

Seibert said on Greece's financial and economic woes that “we have a very clear basis for overcoming the debt crisis, and that is the agreements in the third aid package”.

He stressed that the deal was signed “not with some government, but with the Hellenic Republic… That means it remains valid in its entirety, beyond elections and changes of government”.

“And on this basis, we and certainly the other European partners will cooperate with the new Greek government.”

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German war crime payments debated in Greece

Greece's parliament on Wednesday began a debate on a resolution to demand the payment of German war crime reparations, an issue long disputed by Berlin.

German war crime payments debated in Greece
Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras in Greece in January. Photo: DPA

“These demands are always active. They were never set aside by Greece,” parliament chairman Nikos Voutsis told reporters this week.

The chamber is expected to approve later Wednesday, with cross-party support, a resolution calling on the government of Premier Alexis Tsipras “to take all the necessary diplomatic and legal steps to claim and fully satisfy all the demands of the Greek state stemming from World War I and World War II”.

A parliamentary committee last year determined that Germany owes Greece at least €270 billion for World War I damages and looting, atrocities and a forced loan during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Reclaiming war reparations has been a campaign pledge by Tsipras since 2015. He faces multiple electoral challenges this year, with his party trailing in polls.

'Historical responsibility'

During a visit to Greece in January, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country “recognised its historical responsibility.”

SEE ALSO: Merkel says Germany recognizes responsibility for Nazi war crimes in Greece

“We recognize our historical responsibility. We know how much suffering we, as Germany in the time of Nazism, have brought to Greece,” she said.

In 2014, ex-president Joachim Gauck had also sought public forgiveness in the name of Germany from relatives of those murdered by the Nazis in the mountains of northern Greece.

But when it comes to actual payments, the German government has always insisted that the issue was settled in 1960 in a deal with several European governments.

Germany's government spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated Wednesday that “the reparation issue is judicially and politically settled”. 

He said Berlin is doing “everything it can so Greece and Germany maintain good relations as friends and partners”. 

During the Greek economic crisis, there was further tension in Athens over draconian EU austerity and bailout terms seen to be imposed by Berlin hardliners.

Relations have improved over the last three years after Tsipras' government endorsed conditions linked to satisfying its creditors.

Tsipras and Merkel also worked closely on finding common ground on migration and Balkans security.