German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras she hoped both countries would “lend each other support” for their common prosperity. The Greek president pressed Merkel on wartime reparations, an issue Berlin says is closed.
Germany recognises its historical responsibility for crimes committed by the Nazis in Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday on her first visit to Athens since 2014.
“We recognise our historical responsibility. We know how much suffering we, as Germany in the time of Nazism, have brought to Greece,” she said.
“That is why it’s a lesson for us to do everything to have good relations with Greece, and to lend each other support for the prosperity of both countries.”
Tensions linger over wartime reparations for the World War II Nazi occupation of Greece, with Berlin arguing the issue was settled in 1960 in a deal with several European governments.
In talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after her arrival on Thursday, Merkel lauded the sacrifices Greeks made during the country’s economic crisis of 2010-2014.
A legal issue?
Greece told Angela Merkel on Friday it had grounds to pursue a legal claim for billions of euros in reparations for the Nazi occupation of the country in World War Two.
Germany has dismissed Athens’ demands in the past, but the Greek president raised the issue anew with Merkel, who is on a two-day visit.
“As Greeks, we consider these demands legally active and [can be] judicially pursued and should be solved in the competent European forum, judicial forum,” President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told Merkel.
Germany has apologised for Nazi-era crimes during the war but has said it is not willing to discuss reparations. It has denied owing anything to Greece for World War Two since it paid Athens 115 million deutschmarks in 1960.
During her first visit to Greece in 2014, Merkel faced major protests and sought to ease tensions with Athens where Berlin was often blamed for biting austerity and bailouts.
Also in 2014, ex-president Joachim Gauck sought public forgiveness in the name of Germany from relatives of those murdered by the Nazis in the mountains of northern Greece.
Merkel was to hold talks with conservative opposition New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an EU parliament ally of her Christian Democrats.
She is expected to show support for a name change for Greece’s neighbour Macedonia, which is still a divisive issue in Greece.
Hitler’s forces occupied Greece in 1941-1944 and extracted a so-called “occupation loan” used to help finance its campaign in North Africa. Runaway inflation followed, and tens of thousands of people starved to death.
Greece was forced to hand over 476 million reichmarks, which Greek officials have estimated at $69.14 billion (6-10 billion euros).