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German Chancellor Merkel Exits with Good Reviews — But Not from Greece

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Departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit: Michael Panse/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leaving office after 16 years, receiving favorable  assessment internationally, the same has not been forthcoming from Greece.

According to the Pew Research Center, the departing German Chancellor has been rated positively in almost all of the 16 advanced economies surveyed in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

However, Greece stands out as the nation where Merkel’s work is rated negatively by seven out of 10 Greeks.

Along with its Chancellor, the majority of Greeks do not have a positive view of the nation of Germany in regard to its overall influence in the European Union.

Specifically, only 30 percent of respondents in Greece believe in Merkel to do right in global affairs and only 32 percent have a favorable view of Germany.

angela merkel
Credit: Pew Research Center

Angela Merkel and Greece’s bailout

The economic crisis that led to the signing of the first bailout program in May, 2010 is the beginning of Greece’s disgruntlement with the European Union and Germany.

Germany, as the biggest economic power in the European Union, is viewed as the center of decision-making, even though the EU seat is in Brussels.

Greece signed the second bailout MoU with the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — the so-called troika — in 2012.

It was then that Merkel and Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble became the main target by the Greeks for the austere measures implemented.

When the leftist Syriza party, with leader Alexis Tsipras, started gaining popularity in 2014, Merkel and Schaeuble became the red flag of the indignant Greeks.

One of the most famous pre-election quotes by Tsipras was “Go back, madam Merkel,” words he shouted at an election rally, receiving thunderous applause.

When Syriza came to power in January 2015 and Tsipras signed the third bailout program in July of that year with the blessings of Merkel, public sentiment in Greece became more sour.

For many Greeks, Merkel sacrificed their country to save the euro zone, because a Grexit would also mean a blow to the common European currency and the bloc as well.

It was a period when Germany and Merkel seemed like the source of all evils for Greece.

When the German Chancellor visited Greece in January 2019, violent protests broke out with demonstrators clashing with police.

Recession and the refugee crisis

Along with the signing of the third bailout program full of harsh austerity measures, Greece was hit by an enormous influx of refugees from Syria in the summer of 2015.

Along with the Syrian refugees, there was a huge inflow of undocumented migrants who took advantage of the overall turmoil and crossed over to Greece with the aim to move to richer Central and Northern Europe.

Germany and other European countries accommodated thousands of refugees and migrants. Yet, Greece had to bear the brunt of hundreds of thousands of stranded asylum seekers who had an easy entry point from the coasts of Turkey.

The March 2016 deal the EU signed with Turkey for the return of refugee from Greece to Turkey failed and created a serious problem for Greece as thousands overcrowded the reception camps on five islands.

Germany’s favoritism to Turkey

In the later years of the economic and migrant crisis, Turkey embarked upon a series of illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, and almost daily violations of Greek airspace.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top officials make repeated statements against Greece, challenging the country’s sovereign rights in the Aegean.

At the same time, Turkey has violated Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone by drilling for oil and gas, while trying to separate the Turkish-occupied part from the rest of the island.

Repeated calls from the Greek side to the EU to implement sanctions against Turkey for its illegal behavior against two EU member states fell on deaf ears.

Greece is aware of the special relationship Germany has with Turkey as more than three million people of Turkish origin are naturalized German citizens. Also, Germany has substantial economic interests in Turkey.

Subsequently, Merkel has been accused by Greece for this favoritism, for prioritizing Germany’s economic wellbeing at the expense of two fellow EU member states.

Angela Merkel and World War II reparations

In April 2019, Greece once more opened the issue of war reparations from Germany, estimated to be the equivalent of 279-289 billion euros following an earlier Greek committee’s assessment.

Greeks suffered tremendously during the Nazi German Army occupation of the country from April 1941 through October 1944. Even today’s German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had recently described as “unimaginable” horrors.

Tens of thousands were killed in reprisals as Greeks mounted what historians would later hail as a heroic resistance against the Wehrmacht, with entire villages being wiped out between 1941 and 1944.

By the time the occupation ended, an estimated 300,000 people had died from famine and the country’s Jewish community had been almost entirely obliterated.

Berlin has long argued that recompense was delivered when, under a bilateral accord, it paid Athens 115 million Deutsche marks in 1960.

The Merkel government officially rejected once again Greece’s claim for war reparations  in October 2019, adding more power to the argument against the departing German Chancellor.

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