With Threats, Leaders Push Greece Closer to Euro Exit

Greece’s attempts to extort its Northern European creditor states is testing their patience to the limit.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann in Vienna, February 9
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann in Vienna, February 9 (Bundeskanzleramt/Andy Wenzel)

If Greece wants to run the risk of being kicked out of the euro, it should keep doing what it’s doing. With its latest threat — to seize German property in Greece as compensation for wartime atrocities — the government in Athens is testing its Northern European creditors’ patience to the limit.

Justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos announced on Wednesday morning he was “ready to approve” a 2000 supreme court ruling that allows for the confiscation of German assets in Greece as compensation for Nazi atrocities during World War II.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament a day earlier, “After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be solved. But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay.”

He claimed Greece was owed €160 billion in compensation for a forced loan to German occupiers and destruction of the country’s assets.

Nazi Germany and its ally, Italy, occupied Greece between 1941 and 1944. Germany insists all claims from that period were wrapped up 25 years ago when the former Allied powers renounced the rights they held in Germany in a treaty. “The issue has been closed legally and politically and there won’t be any negotiations about this,” a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

Tsipras has made no similar demands for reparations from his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, who last month promised him the “strongest possible support” in debt negotiations.

Tsipras came to power in late January when his far-left Syriza party won the election on promises to roll back spending cuts as well as liberal economic reforms Greece has enacted since 2010 under a €240 billion bailout from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Greece’s creditors have rejected most of Tsipras’ demands and his government seems to be resorting to extortion.

On Sunday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos threatened to flood Europe’s paymaster Germany with immigrants if his government didn’t get its way. “If they hit out at Greece then they should know that the migrants will get [travel] papers and go to Berlin,” he said.

Kammenos added that if Islamic State terrorists happened to be among those immigrants, the rest of Europe would have only itself to blame.

The comment outraged the Germans. A prominent ruling party lawmaker suggested that Greece should be forced out of passport-free Schengen Area if Kammenos persisted in his threats.

Earlier this month, Tsipras accused Portugal and Spain of leading an “axis of powers” against his government in bailout negotiations with the rest of the eurozone.

“Their plan was and is to wear down, topple or bring our government to unconditional surrender,” he said, “before our work begins to bear fruit and before the Greek example affects other countries.”

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was appalled. “We are not responsible for the frustration generated by the radical Greek left that promised the Greeks something it couldn’t deliver on,” he said.

Tsipras had already upset Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands when he canceled some austerity measures after taking office. The parliamentary leader of Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party, Halbe Zijlstra, warned that the Greeks had to “make good on their agreements” or leave the euro. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble told the Greeks it was not realistic to make electoral promises that burdened other countries.

Meanwhile, Greece is dragging its feet on the reforms it promised to enact last month in exchange for a four-month extension of its bailout.

The Netherlands’ Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, told RTL television on Tuesday that Greece would not receive any more disbursements unless it actually made some policy changes, rather than talking about them. “Just receiving the money without any action — it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Time is short because Greece could run out of money by the end of the month. Without continued financial support, it might have to default on some of its debt payments.

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