Germany said on Monday (9 February) there was “zero” chance of it paying Nazi-era reparations to Athens, following a renewed demand from Greece’s new leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
In his first major speech to parliament on Sunday, Alexis Tsipras laid out plans to dismantle Greece’s austerity programme, ruled out any extension of its €240 billion international bailout and vowed to seek war reparations from Berlin.
Tsipras said Greece had a “moral obligation” to claim reparations for the damages brought by the Nazis during World War Two.
“A moral obligation to our people, to history, to all Europeans who fought and gave their blood against Nazism,” Tsipras said.
The demand for compensation, revived by a previous Greek government in 2013 but not pursued, was rejected outright by Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister.
“The probability is zero,” said Gabriel, when asked if Germany would make such payments to Greece, adding a treaty signed 25 years ago had wrapped up all such claims.
Germany and Greece share a complex history that has complicated the debt debate. Greece was occupied by German troops in WWII, an issue that has resurfaced since it has been forced to endure tough reforms in return for a financial bailout partly funded by euro zone partners.
Many Greeks have blamed eurozone heavyweight Germany for the austerity, leading to the revival of a dormant claim against Berlin for billions of euros of war reparations.
As part of a wider appeal to Europe for solidarity, Greece’s new finance minister has suggested a parallel between his country and the rise of Nazism in a bankrupt Germany in the 1930s, referring to Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party.
Gabriel referred to the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany”, also known as the Two plus Four Treaty signed in September 1990, by the former West and East Germany, and the four World War Two allies just before German reunification.
Under its terms, the four powers renounced all rights they formerly held in Germany. For Berlin, the document, also approved by Greece among other states, effectively drew a line under possible future claims for war reparations.
Germany thus denies owing anything more to Greece for World War Two after the 115 million Deutsche Marks it paid in 1960, one of 12 war compensation deals it signed with Western nations.
But Athens has said it always considered that money as only an initial payment, with the rest of its claims to be discussed after German reunification, which eventually came in 1990.
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, dismissed Greece's claims for WWII reparation from Germany, saying the demand went "against the European spirit".
In a statement, Verhofstadt added, "Tsipras undermines the fundamentals of European integration. He seems to have forgotten that former enemies made a vital choice to cooperate and build on a common future after the second WW. By doing that, they repaired the mistake that was made in the Versailles Treaty after the First World War.
"Tsipras claims are very unhelpful and will only make it more difficult to find a compromise. Instead of breathing new life into the phantoms of the past, he should put all his efforts into building a new future for Greece. Revenge should not make part of this common European future."
"Last week's European tour by Tsipras and Varoufakis made one thing clear - the European partners expect a serious and solid reform plan. Only if the Greek government comes up with such a plan, I believe that an extension of the maturity of the loans and a revised interest rate should be on the negotiating table. Greece's future is in Europe."
The anti-austerity Syriza party marked a stunning victory in a Greek snap election held on 25 January, but did not ensure an absolute majority.
Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, said the “vicious cycle of austerity” was over, triggering mixed reactions in the EU.
Tsipras stated that the Greek public debt is not viable, and asked for its restructuring, which amounts to 177% of GDP.
The new Greek leadership got off on a tour of European capitals last week (2-6 February) to seek more favourable terms to the country's EU/IMF bailout.