Update: Germany rejects new Greek demand for war payments

Germany on Wednesday rejected a fresh demand from Greece for hundreds of billions of euros in World War I and II reparations, insisting the issue had been legally settled decades ago.

Update: Germany rejects new Greek demand for war payments
Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during her visit to Athens in January. Photo: DPA

The leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had called on Berlin in a diplomatic verbal note to negotiate the issue just a month before elections where it faces the risk of defeat.

In Berlin, a foreign ministry spokesman reiterated that — while Germany stands by its moral responsibility and seeks “dialogue with Greece” and a “common culture of remembrance” — it considers the payments issue closed.

“Over 70 years after the end of the war and more than 25 years after the Two Plus Four Treaty (allowing Germany's 1990 reunification), the question of reparations has been legally and politically settled,” said the spokesman, Rainer Breul.

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

In addition, the Greek state accounting office has estimated that private claims for war dead and invalids could be worth a further €107 billion.

Germany has repeatedly apologised to Greece for past crimes but insists that when it comes to actual payments, the issue was finalised in 1960 in a deal with several European governments.

Berlin says all former claims were finally settled with the 1990 Two-Plus Four Agreement signed by the former West and East Germany and the post-war occupying powers the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

'Historical responsibility'

During the Greek economic crisis, which began in 2010, Germany footed a large share of the multi-billion dollar rescue bill.

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

There was tension in Athens over draconian EU austerity and bailout terms seen to be imposed by Berlin hardliners and scheduled debt repayments run beyond 2060.

Reclaiming war reparations from Berlin has been a campaign pledge by Tsipras since 2015.

However, he had put the issue on the back-burner in recent years as he worked with Germany to keep highly indebted Greece in the eurozone and to manage migration and Balkans security.

Ahead of early elections on July 7th, Tsipras trails in the polls and is currently battling to galvanise his Syriza party after losing European and local elections over the last two weeks.

The Greek parliament in April also voted through a resolution demanding the payment of reparations.

With cross-party support, the chamber had approved the resolution to call on the government “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”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said during a January visit to Greece that her country “recognised its historical responsibility”.

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

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


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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP