Greece’s defense ministry ratchets up rhetoric

Panos-Kammenos-greeceAs part of the anti-austerity coalition deal between the leftist, pro-european reformers of Syriza and the right-wing, euroskeptic Independent Greeks, the latter were given the country’s National Defense portfolio in the government. Unlike Syriza, which at least officially favors cooperation with Europe, the Independent Greeks party under Defense Minister Panos Kammenos (pictured) is openly antagonizing other European Union governments and being far less diplomatic — either as a rogue effort or as the role of “bad cop” outside the negotiations.

The latest ramp-up in “bad cop” talk was Minister Kammenos’s suggestion that the eurozone would disintegrate in the aftermath of a Greek economic implosion or exit, with Italy, Spain, and possibly even Germany being forced to go back on to their own currencies too. (The latter seems pretty unlikely.)

He also recently threatened to release all Middle Eastern refugees in holding in Greece into the rest of the Union with papers to enter Germany — in the midst of a political crisis there over refugees — if Germany fails to ease up on its demands upon Greece, and he reiterated counter-demands that Germany repay Nazi war debts that Greece forgave under Allied pressure in 1953 along with damages from the brutal Nazi occupation and counterinsurgency of Greece during the war. (Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos, a former academic who is not a member of either party in the governing coalition, also suggested that failure to repay the debts and damages could open German companies in Greece to asset seizure.)

But the most specific and perhaps unexpected demand to emanate from the defense ministry was actually related to defense! The ministry — along, actually, with some German journalists — alleges that its predecessors wasted billions in public funds on buying weapons systems and arms it didn’t need from EU firms that bribed Greek officials to make the purchases, and they want compensation. Reuters reports:

Greece’s government wants more than 100 million euros ($110 million) in compensation from German defence companies it says paid bribes to win arms deals, a senior defence ministry source confirmed on Monday.

German newspaper Bild reported that Airbus’ Eurocopter helicopter unit was alleged to have paid 41 million euros in bribes to Greek officials to sell 20 NH-90 helicopters.

German defence group Rheinmetall, STN and Atlas Elektronik are also alleged to have paid a total of 62 million euros in bribes for submarine contracts, Bild said.

The defence ministry source confirmed to Reuters that Greece would seek about 100 million euros in compensation from these firms as part of an investigation that includes other cases.

“It’s a series of cases, not only German ones but mainly German, and Greece hopes it can get 500-800 million euros,” the source said. “Any firm that will be convicted (of bribery) and wants to continue trade relations with Greece should come to an out of court compromise,” the source said.

Airbus Helicopters denied the alleged wrongdoing reported in Bild.

Despite the Independent Greeks party’s nationalist tendencies, it seems to be in general agreement with Syriza’s view that the Greek military has remained bloated and costly for far too long and needs to be scaled back significantly as part of budgetary reforms.

That is actually not something pushed by eurozone governments as hard as social cuts, probably because virtually all of them are fellow NATO members who don’t want to spend more either and want governments like Greece to continue picking up the tab on defense spending (by buying their defense products, of course).

Syriza has questioned the continued merits of heavy Greek participation in NATO in the current era, and I’m not sure I blame them for asking whether it makes sense for Greece at this point. (I can see the alliance’s continued merits overall, but not everyone who founded it necessarily needs to remain a big part in it.)

If the corruption allegations are true, this would be another example of northern European governments looking the other way on out-of-control Greek spending when it was convenient to them and then bringing down the hammer without mercy when it becomes inconvenient.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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