German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Tuesday that the issue of whether Germany should pay reparations to Greece for the Nazi occupation during World War II had been settled, while not denying the country’s moral responsibility.
Athens’ new radical leftist government has stepped up pressure on Berlin over the emotional and controversial issue of war payments.
As tempers flare between debt-mired Greece and the eurozone’s paymaster over the debt crisis, Athens has stirred painful memories of the Nazis’ bloody occupation of the country.
But Germany insists that the issue is settled, a position reiterated by Schaeuble in the German capital on Tuesday.
On Saturday, German President Joachim Gauck had said in a newspaper interview that Germany should “consider what possibilities there might be for reparations” to countries that suffered under the Nazis, including Greece.
“We are not only people who are living in this day and age but we’re also the descendants of those who left behind a trail of destruction in Europe during World War II — in Greece, among other places,” the president said.
The comments were seen by some as a shift in the German position on reparations. But Schaeuble rejected this.
“The president wasn’t talking about reparations. That was a misunderstanding. He was saying that there are still people who are suffering from the consequences of World War II,” the minister said.
Gauck was “urging us not to forget,” Schaeuble said.
“Perhaps we didn’t examine closely what happened in Greece, as in other countries, but that has nothing to do with reparations.”
The spokesman of German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also insisted on Monday that Berlin’s position on the matter had not changed, even if Germany “took its historic responsibility very seriously.”
A Greek junior minister told the Greek parliament last month the figure owed by Germany was more than 278 billion euros ($300 billion), including some 10 billion for a forced loan taken by Nazi occupation forces.
Berlin argues the issue is settled and that a treaty signed by former East and West Germany with the Allies in 1990 to formally end World War II effectively drew a line under possible future claims for war reparations.