Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel meet in Berlin as tense German‑Greek talks get under way

Greek threats to confiscate German property unless Berlin pays millions in compensation for the crimes committed by the Nazis have angered the Berlin government

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The Independent Online

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin tonight for a tense encounter overshadowed by Athens’ mounting debt crisis and embarrassing claims that the German arms industry had paid millions in backhanders to win Greek weapons contracts.

Germany tried to dispel the rancour over Athens’s debt that has soured relations between both countries for weeks by welcoming the leftist Greek leader on his first visit to Berlin with full military honours and by insisting that the meeting was an ideal chance for a rapprochement.

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The cover of the latest edition of Der Spiegel, examining Greece's view of Germany, as the war reparations row continues

“I expect us to begin a new start,” said Ms Merkel’s deputy, the German Vice-Chancellor and Social Democrat Party leader, Sigmar Gabriel. “Both sides have to be honest. The Greek government must realise that Europe and Germany want to help but that we can’t do it without the necessary reforms.”

German politicians have deluged Mr Tsipras and his Finance Minister with allegations that their government is not serious about implementing the economic and social reforms needed to qualify for its international bailout. In an effort to defuse the crisis, Mr Tsipras was expected to present Berlin with a list of concrete reforms, including plans to fight corruption and widespread tax evasion. 

 

But the meeting between the woman billed as Europe’s most powerful leader and Mr Tsipras got off to an ominous start amid German media claims that Greece had until only 9 April before it ran out of money and disclosures at the weekend that Mr Tsipras had sent Ms Merkel a letter on 15 March brusquely demanding both a debt write-off and a third bailout later this year.

The letter, details of which were published in the Financial Times at the weekend, followed a pledge from the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last week that the EU would provide an emergency £1.45bn to Greece to help ease what has been described as its “humanitarian crisis”.

But Ms Merkel has insisted that no more money would be provided unless Greece embarked on a credible reform programme. In Germany, Ms Merkel was quoted as having said with uncharacteristic bluntness at the weekend: “I am alone in the EU. I don’t care because I am right.”

Greek threats to confiscate German property in Greece unless Berlin pays millions in compensation for the crimes committed by the Nazis during their occupation of the country during the Second World War have angered the Berlin government, although some opposition MPs have backed the idea. In what appeared to be a follow-up offensive, the Greek defence ministry today published details of what it claimed was widespread corruption within the German arms industry involving bribes totalling at least €100m (£73m) which were paid to Greece to win weapons contracts.

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Germany’s mass-circulation Bild newspaper said that according to the Greek defence ministry, German companies – including Rheinmetall, STN and Atlas – had paid €62m in backhanders to Greek officials to win contracts for the sale of German submarines to Greece. The paper said the Franco-German Airbus Eurocopter concern had paid €42m in bribes to Greece to win contracts for the sale of 20 NH-90 helicopters. Athens was said to be demanding €100m in compensation from the German companies involved.

In a statement Airbus said the allegations were “groundless”.

In recent years, German courts have fined German weapons manufacturers millions for similar offences in Greece. In an interview with Bild, the Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos asked: “Why must corrupt German companies always pay millions in fines only in Germany but not here in Greece?”

The Greek reform package, which was agreed between Ms Merkel and Mr Tsipras in Brussels on Friday, includes plans to restart a privatisation programme suspended by the new Greek government following its election in January.

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