Germany snubbed Greece’s call for more than 278 billion euros (US$306 billion) in war payments on Tuesday, calling it “dumb” to mix World War II claims with Athens’ negotiations for more aid.
German Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel said calls for reparations for the brutal four-year Nazi occupation of Greece only hampered progress on efforts to financially shore up Athens as it battles its massive debt mountain.
Making calls for reparations does not advance the race by Greece and its creditors to bolster the country’s solvency by even “a millimeter,” Gabriel, who is also vice chancellor, said at an event in Berlin.
“Honestly, I find it dumb,” he added.
Greece has an interest in gaining “wiggle room” for its new radical government’s policies, Gabriel said, adding: “This changed policy and the wiggle room have absolutely nothing to do with the Second World War and reparations payments.”
Greece’s fledgling government, which came to power in January, has stepped up pressure on Berlin over the emotional and controversial issue of war reparations that it says are a “moral issue” that must still be resolved.
As tempers have flared between debt-mired Greece and the eurozone’s effective paymaster over the debt crisis, painful historical memories have resurfaced over the Nazi’s bloody and devastating occupation of Greece from 1941.
A junior Greek minister told the Greek parliament on Monday that the figure owed by Germany amounted to more than 278 billion euros, including about 10 billion for a forced loan taken by Nazi occupation forces.
Berlin says that the issue of reparations to Greece has already been settled, and points to payments made in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments.
It also maintains that a treaty signed by the two former Germanys with the Allies in 1990 to formally end World War II effectively drew a line under possible future claims for war reparations.
“The government is of the opinion that that is legally and politically closed,” a German Ministry of Finance spokesman said on Tuesday, stressing he was reacting to the issue of reparations’ demands generally and not to the figures quoted by Athens.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras raised the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his first visit to Berlin after taking office last month.
Greece’s parliament has approved a motion to reactivate a special committee to look into war reparations, reimbursement of the forced war loan and the return of archaeological relics seized by German occupation forces.
Tsipras’ minister of justice said last month that he was prepared to activate a 15-year-old Greek Supreme Court ruling that authorized the seizure of German assets in Greece to pay for wartime atrocities.
Merkel last month said she saw the issue of reparations as “politically and legally resolved,” but said Germans were aware “of the atrocities we committed” and took their responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis “very, very seriously.”
She told reporters at the time she would be willing to discuss more contributions to a German-Greek “future fund” designed to finance programs fostering reconciliation between the countries.
It was launched last year with an annual budget of 1 million euros.
Many experts say the dispute has effectively reached a judicial stalemate after related adjudication between Germany and Italy by the International Court of Justice in 2012.
At the time, the UN’s highest court ruled that Italy had broken international law by allowing its courts to hear civil compensation claims against Germany.
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