Greece’s war of words with Germany deepened as Greece renewed demands for war reparations and formally complained about Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Germany and Greece confirmed Thursday that the Greek ambassador in Berlin made an official protest late Tuesday to the German Foreign Ministry over comments made by Schaeuble.
Schaeuble and his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis have traded barbs in recent weeks, with Schaeuble suggesting on Tuesday that Varoufakis needed to look more closely at an agreement Greece signed in February and commenting on his fellow minister’s communication strategy. Schaeuble said Thursday that any suggestion he had insulted Varoufakis was “absurd.”
Tensions have risen between Greece and Germany since the election of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Jan. 25 on a platform on ending the austerity his Syriza party blames Chancellor Angela Merkel for pushing. Germany is the biggest country contributor to Greece’s 240 billion-euro ($255 billion) twin bailouts and the chief proponent of budget cuts and reforms measures in return.
The latest spat centers on Tuesday’s press conference in Brussels, when Schaeuble referred to a Feb. 20 declaration that Varoufakis had signed, saying that “he just has to read it. I’m willing to lend him my copy if need be.”
He also said he talked with Varoufakis about the latter’s treatment at the hands of the media, saying that he had told his Greek counterpart: “In terms of communication, you made a stronger impression on us than in substance. But that may well have been a false impression. That he should suddenly be naive in terms of communication, I told him, that is quite new to me. But you live and learn.”
According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Schaeuble was cited in some Greek media as calling Varoufakis “foolishly naive” in his handling of the press.
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Konstantinos Koutras rejected suggestions that the government’s complaint had been based on a “wrong translation” of Schaeuble’s remarks.
“On the contrary, the reason for this complaint to the government of a friend, counterpart and ally country was based on the essence of what Mr. Schaeuble said,” Koutras said in an e-mail.
Greece and Germany, battling over how to deal with a cash crunch Greece will face in the coming weeks, have also argued over whether Germany should pay more war reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. Underscoring the tense relationship, Tsipras’s first official action after his election was to pay tribute to victims of the Nazis.
German postwar reparations included a 115 million deutsche mark ($62.4 million) payment to Greece in 1960.
Merkel’s government cites the 1990 treaty that reunited East and West Germany in ruling out further wartime reparations. The pact, also signed by the four powers that occupied Germany at the end of World War II, was later backed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Greece is a member.
“We recognize our historical, moral responsibility. There is no question about that,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday in Washington. “I think we can say with some justification that there won’t be a reopening of this debate on reparations.”
Greece says that the 1990 agreement to reunite Germany does not specifically rule out war reparations and that it’s a topic that still needs to be addressed.
“We will approach this matter with the sensitivity that is required, with a sense of responsibility, with honesty, and with an attitude that supports understanding and dialogue,” Tsipras said in a speech this week. “We expect the same from the German government –- for political, historical, symbolic, and moral reasons.”
Greek Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos said he is willing to move forward with enforcing a 2000 decision from the country’s Supreme Court granting compensation to relatives of 218 Greeks killed by the Nazis in the city of Distomo.
The timing of any actions “will depend on the political negotiations which the government will attempt,” Paraskevopoulos told lawmakers March 10.