EURO CRISIS: LOOK TO GERMANY’S PAST

JOHN MCGURK

A man with a shaven head who rides a motor bike, wears a black leather trench coat and gives rambling television interviews has suddenly become Europe’s most exciting politician in less than two weeks.

His name is Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek finance minister, who has been on a whistle-stop tour in an attempt to win support to renegotiate the terms of his country’s E320 billion Euro debt following the election of the left-wing Syriza party to the government in Athens.

The Greek Varometer, as he has become known because of his irreverent style, has a way with words having already described the impact of austerity on the Greeks as “fiscal water boarding.”

When asked if he supported Greece quitting the Eurozone he quoted the words of the 1970s Eagles hit “Hotel California” telling his interviewer: “You can check out any time you like…but you can never leave.”

His bravado appears to have everyone spooked.

Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, has predicted that Greece’s exit from Europe is inevitable. Greek bonds and markets have tumbled and analysts now think the chances of the country’s withdrawal are 50-50.

Britain is making its own contingency plans. David Cameron has been meeting with the Treasury and the Bank of England to figure out how we can be best protected should it all go pear-shaped again.

With our own general election looming, another Eurozone crisis could well throw our own fragile recovery into chaos just around the time that votes are being cast.

But the Germans, the main source of Greece’s bail-out money, along with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) seem to be standing firm.

Germany has made it clear that if the Greeks don’t do as they’re told, the next package of E7.2 billion Euros due on February 28 to keep the country afloat will not be delivered.

The stakes are high: if Greece runs out of money and is forced to re-invent the drachma, the European Union itself would be at risk of collapse.

Despite it all, there is no sign that Varoufakis and the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, are giving in – perhaps because they believe they have something up their sleeve which could be a game-changer.

Yesterday’s Greek newspapers outlined how much the Nazis stole from Greece during World War Two…and how the money was never paid back.

One of the leading daily papers, Ta Nea, has also detailed how the names of 85 super wealthy Greeks are now known to be missing from the list of suspected tax dodgers handed over to the previous Greek government by the IMF boss Christine Lagarde.

Who are the people who have cheated Greece out of hundreds of millions in unpaid tax and who deleted their names?

The new Greek government has calculated that Germany owes Greece 162 billion Euros because the Third Reich forced the Greek Central Bank to hand over the money during the occupation of the country from 1941-1944.

This money was never reimbursed after the end of the war and neither was any reparation paid despite the terror and the destruction inflicted by the German army.

The reason for this is that the allies, desperate to halt the advance of communism during the Greek civil war which immediately followed WW2, persuaded Greece to drop any claim against Germany in return for aid via the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe.

According to the Greeks, it is now clear that the biggest beneficiary of the Marshall Plan was Germany which rebuilt itself and practically paid nothing to its former enemies.

How much did this assist the German economic miracle in the post war years? And how much has this contributed to the position of Germany today as the economic powerhouse of Europe?

The Greeks are also quoting a German professor of economic history, Albercht Ritschi, who gave an interview to Der Speigel in 2011 when he said that “Germany had been the 20th century’s worst payer of debts.”

Conveniently, when Germany officially apologised to Greece for Nazi war crimes just last year, it was made clear by the German government that any legal path for reparations was “now closed”.

The charismatic Varoufakis is due in Brussels tomorrow for the next stage of talks; ideally, he wants a bridging loan to tide Greece over until some agreement can be reached.

Perhaps the WW2 reparations argument is a way of persuading the Germans to write off some of Greece’s debt; right now it seems the only solution.

What must be clear is that more austerity for Greece in return for another bail-out is not the answer.

This punishment over the last six years has failed, the country has more debt than it had when the crisis started and there is little sign of economic recovery.

The consequences of Greece becoming a vulnerable, third world country in 21st century Europe are unthinkable while, for the rest of us, it would be unbearable.

John McGurk is co-editor of ScotBuzz and was editor of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday and managing editor of The Daily Telegraph.

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

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