The Greek government is in disarray after the leak of an explosive report drawing up vast reparations claims against Germany, covering both the First and Second World Wars.
Premier Antonis Samaras held a special meeting with the foreign minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and other key officials this morning to limit the diplomatic damage from the 80-page report.
The document – stamped “Aporito”, or secret – was drafted by a panel of experts appointed by the Greek finance ministry and delivered to officials last month.
The alleged claim against Germany reaches a grand total of €162bn, including €108bn for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure after the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944. This is 80pc of Greek GDP.
The probe was chaired by Panagiotis Karakousis, director-general of the General Accounting Office at the Finance Ministry, and relied on 190,000 pages of documents scattered through the country’s ministries and archives.
Mr Karakousis told The Daily Telegraph that the report was commissioned by the current leadership, not the previous Pasok government.
“The purpose was to gather all the material available so that the political leaders can check the data,” he said.
The Greek foreign ministry said this morning that the report would be sent to the State Legal Service “so that legal elaboration, assessment and setting out of the claims of the Greek State can be carried out and a relevant opinion submitted.”
The report was first leaked to the Greek newspaper To Vima over the weekend in a story entitled “What Germany Owes Us”.
The panel concluded that Athens has legitimate grounds to press claims. “Greece never received any compensation, either for the loans it was forced to provide to Germany or for the damages it suffered during the war,” it said.
The newspaper said the issue has “detonated like a bomb” at a critical juncture when Greece is under intense pressure from creditors. “The government should publish all the findings and determine its position on this sensitive issue,” it said.
The inclusion of the First World War has baffled historians. Greece declared war against the Central Powers in 1917 and mostly fought against Bulgaria. “I have never hear anything like this before. It is crazy,” said one Greek writer.
There has long been a vociferous lobby calling for war reparations from Germany, with the so-called “National Council” calling for as much €500bn to cover stolen art work and the loss of 50pc of economic output over almost four years.
They claim that Germany’s debts were forgiven after the war at the London Conference in 1953 – including its debts to Greece – and that Berlin should remember that Germany’s Wirtschaftwunder was built with US Marshal aid and American help. Some 300,000 Greeks died under the Axis occupation, mostly from starvation.
Yet this report is an official document and carries the imprimatur of the finance ministry. It is unclear what Athens hopes to gain by stirring up a highly emotional issue.
The report is certain to be viewed by German officials as a form of moral blackmail as tough talks continue over each stage of Greece’s EU-IMF Troika programme.
Sources in Greece say the document was prepared as a bargaining chip to be put away in a draw and used only if Germany and other EU creditor powers overplay their the hand, though the circumstances are murky.
The gambit raises serious questions about the true intentions of Mr Samaras and his New Democracy Party, which has positioned itself as a friend of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It again exposes the breakdown of fundamental trust in the eurozone after three years of depression in the South and mutual recriminations between creditors and debtors. Old demons have been conjured back to life.
The report includes a welter of different claims on Germany, including €54bn for the costs of forced loans from the bank of Greece to cover the wages and supplies of the Nazi troops, and to support the Afrika Korps.
Greece has already enjoyed considerable debt relief, though at the expense of private pension funds, insurers, and banks, rather than at the expense the German state or other eurozone countries.
It is estimated that German taxpayers may have lost €12bn so far indirectly through haircuts on the Greek bondholdings of banks that are co-owned by the German authorities, or have been part nationalised.
Under current policy, Greece must stick to its austerity regime until the end of the decade, when public debt is expected to stabilise at 122pc of GDP if all goes perfectly. Critics are sceptical, saying the Troika has underestimated the scale of economic collapse at every stage.
There was bittersweet news today with prices declining for the first time in 45 years. Greece is pulling off its `internal devaluation’ as demanded, but it risks tipping into deflation and aggravating its debt crisis in the process. It may have jumped from the pan into the fire.