BERLIN – Relations between Greece’s new government and Germany got off to a rocky start after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras swept to power in January on pledges to end the budget austerity Germany had been pushing for. Here are some of the issues causing friction as Tsipras makes his first visit to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel’s Germany was a leading advocate of the tough conditions attached to Greece’s international rescue programs, under which successive Greek governments have had to impose harsh spending cuts and enact economic reforms in exchange for some 240 billion euros ($260 billion) in loans. Tsipras’ left-wing party argues that austerity has been counterproductive but agreed a month ago to push through reforms in exchange for keeping European Union aid flowing. Greek officials have irked Germany — Europe’s biggest economy and a key creditor — by subsequently casting doubt on elements of those pledges and delaying the submission of detailed reform measures.
The new Greek government has revived calls for new German payments to Greece in compensation for wrecked infrastructure, war crimes and a loan that occupied Greece was forced to make to the Nazis, though it hasn’t named specific figures. The German government argues that the issue of reparations was resolved in a 1960 accord requiring West Germany to pay Greece 115 million marks — equivalent to about $330 million today. It insists that the issue is closed both politically and legally and has no place in discussions of Greece’s current financial troubles.
Weeks of argument over bailout conditions and other issues have dragged down the tone of relations and eroded trust on both sides. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has accused Athens of destroying confidence by flip-flopping on pledges to creditors. This month, the Greek ambassador to Berlin protested to Germany over comments by Schaeuble, who responded by saying that he had “always talked respectfully” about Greece and to its politicians. His Greek counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis, last week sparred with a German broadcaster over its screening of a video showing him making a rude gesture when referring to Germany in a speech two years ago.