thens’ fondness for weaponry, and willingness of Germany and France to feed it, under fire as Greece struggles with debt crisis
Former defence minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos has been charged with accepting an â‚¬8m bribe from German company Ferrostaal. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
A few months before submarines became the talk of Athens, Yiannis Panagopoulos, who heads the Greek trade union confederation (GSEE), found himself sitting opposite Angela Merkel at a private meeting the German chancellor had called of European trade unionists in Berlin.
When it came to his turn to address the leader, he instinctively popped the question that many in Greece have wanted to ask. “After running through all the reasons why austerity wasn’t working in my country I brought up the issue of defence expenditure. Was it right, I asked, that our government makes so many weapons purchases from Germany when it obviously couldn’t afford such deals and was slashing wages and pensions?”
Merkel’s reaction was instant. “She immediately said: ‘But we never asked you to spend so much of your GDP on defence,’” Panagopoulos recalled. “And then she mentioned the issue of outstanding payments on submarines she said Germany had been owed for over a decade.”
Greek profligacy may be blamed for triggering the debt crisis that now threatens to tear the eurozone apart, but if there is one area where Berlin is less excoriating of state largesse it is in Athens’s extravagant taste for arms.
Behind the frequent exhortations that Greece rein in spending after living “beyond its means” ”“ admonishments made most loudly by Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang SchÃ¤uble ”“ there is another reality that paints Germany in a less than flattering light, according to MPs, military experts, economists and scholars.
“If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defence it is Germany,” said Dimitris Papadimoulis, an MP with the Coalition of the Radical Left party.