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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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POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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