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Last updated in March 2017
Despite bitter memories of their suffering under the German occupation during the Second World War, many Greeks feel an affinity with Germany and German culture. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have, after spending many years working or studying in Germany, returned home with positive experiences of their stay here. There are currently more than 300,000 people of Greek origin living in Germany, who are well integrated into German society. The economic crisis in Greece has again led to an increase in the number of Greeks coming to Germany.
Many Greeks – including a number of prominent politicians, scientists and academics – also remember with gratitude that they were able to find refuge and support in Germany during the colonels’ dictatorship (1967-1974). Worthy of note are the close contacts between the two countries’ legal experts, attributable to the fact that Greece adopted the German civil law code after gaining its independence in the 19th century and as many Greeks active in the legal profession studied in Germany. In addition, a large number of Greek engineers and physicians received their training in Germany. Moreover, many Greek academics, and even leading figures in the country’s social and political life, have a good command of German.
Political relations between Germany and Greece were for many years characterised by substantial agreement on international issues (such as the role of the United Nations, Middle East policy and the reconstruction of Afghanistan) and on fundamental issues relating to the European Union. The economic crisis together with the refugee problem have had a strong impact on bilateral relations. Germany is seen here as a crucial actor in Europe, without whose support it will not be possible to master the challenges in Greece.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid an official inaugural visit to Athens on 7 April 2017. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos held talks with Federal President Gauck and Federal Chancellor Merkel in Berlin on 18 January 2016. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras paid his first official visit to Berlin on 24 April 2015. He is frequently in touch by telephone with Federal Chancellor Merkel, who last visited Athens on 11 April 2014. The two countries’ heads of government and ministers also meet regularly at EU level. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Athens in January 2014, October 2015 and December 2016. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias paid his first official visit to Berlin on 10 February 2015 and returned for talks with Foreign Minister Steinmeier in January 2016. Federal Economic Affairs Minister Gabriel visited Greece from 30 June to 1 July 2016 with a 40-member delegation comprising representatives of businesses and associations and members of the German Bundestag. For Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel paid his inaugural visit to Athens from 22 to 23 March 2017.
The two Foreign Ministers signed the German-Greek Action Plan for bilateral cooperation in Athens in December 2016. This Action Plan laid the groundwork for a further intensification of cooperation in the fields of politics, business, technology, academia, education, culture and civil society. Numerous cooperative projects have met with success for some time, including a joint German-Greek research programme, cooperation in vocational training and support with funding small and medium-sized companies. Germany is supporting the reform process in Greece also in a European context via the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS). In the summer of 2016, Federal Minister Gabriel agreed two cooperative projects on renewable energies and to promote the export market, which have now got off the ground. German experts are currently providing assistance to the Greek Government within the framework of the European refugee policy, especially with regard to asylum procedures, coordinating aid to refugees and combating migrant smuggling.
Cooperation between the two countries’ municipalities and regions is being stepped up as part of the German-Greek Assembly (DGV). Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel appointed Parliamentary State Secretary Hans-Joachim Fuchtel as DGV coordinator. Since 2012, more than 300 contacts have developed between municipalities on both sides and a series of joint conferences have been held to strengthen knowledge-sharing partnerships. The sixth DGV meeting was held in Nafplio at the beginning of November 2016. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Sindelfingen in the autumn of 2017.
The German occupation of Greece during the Second World War and the crimes committed by the Wehrmacht and SS during this period are still firmly etched in the memory of many Greeks and are also on the agenda of the governing SYRIZA/ANEL coalition. Many victims’ communities have invited German representatives to attend commemorative ceremonies and other events in recent years.
In 2014, the German-Greek Future Fund was set up to promote joint efforts to come to terms with this shared past and provide targeted help to victims’ communities that suffered most from the atrocities committed during the German occupation of the country in the Second World War. In addition, during the visit to Germany by Greek President Karolos Papoulias on 12 September 2014, the two governments announced the establishment of a German-Greek Youth Office as a joint goal. The Youth Office is intended to promote youth exchanges between the two countries as well as foster mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Some 50 German-Greek societies in Germany are members of the umbrella organisation the Association of German-Greek Societies.
The debt crisis and public opinion
The sometimes fierce debates and controversies, conducted in both countries in the media and among the general public since 2010, about Greece’s debt crisis and the “proper” way to overcome it have since faded into the background as a result of the huge pressures put on Greece by the refugee crisis. The Greek side sees Germany as a particularly helpful partner here.
The Federal Government is helping to strengthen the dialogue between the two sides through frequent visits and discussion forums. An important contribution is also being made here by Germany’s political foundations, which have been active again in Greece since 2012.
German companies are active in Greece mainly in the retail sector, the pharmaceutical industry and in infrastructure projects. With a bilateral trade volume of more than 6.6 billion euros, Germany was Greece’s most important trading partner in 2015. German companies are among the principal foreign investors in the country. Deutsche Telekom has a 40 percent stake in the partially state-owned Greek telecommunications company OTE. In addition to companies including Siemens, Bayer and Hochtief that have been operating in Greece for many years, retail companies such Lidl and Media-Saturn have an established presence in the country. Major infrastructure projects such as the Athens Metro and the new Athens International Airport have been completed with the help of German companies. A subsidiary of airport operator Fraport is set to operate and develop 14 regional airports that have so far been run by the government. A concession agreement to this effect was signed in December 2015.
The 121 German companies operating in Greece employ a total workforce of approximately 29,000 and account for a turnover of some 7.3 billion euros (German Federal Bank figures for 2014, as of April 2016).
Close cultural ties have existed between Greece and Germany since the time of the Greek struggle against Ottoman rule, which was supported by the philhellenes in Germany. Numerous German scientists, scholars and administrators went to Greece during the reign of King Otto von Wittelsbach (1833-1862), especially from Bavaria. The pioneering research carried out by German archaeologists, the work done by German engineers to help develop the country and a general affinity for the German legal system forged strong ties in the academic sector that survived the two World Wars. Around 40,000 Greeks have received all or part of their vocational training in Germany. One in ten Greeks have lived in Germany for an extended period at some point in their lives.
There are branches of the Goethe Institute in Athens and Thessaloniki, enriching cultural life in both metropolitan regions. The branches of the Goethe-Institut in Greece hold more language examinations than anywhere else in the world.
The German School in Athens, which looks back on an over 110-year tradition, has a German and a Greek section (with 1,060 students) and enjoys an excellent reputation. The same is true of the German School in Thessaloniki, which dates back even further. In addition, several private schools in Greece are helping to promote the German language.
Founded in 1874, the Athens branch of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) supervises important excavations in Olympia, at the Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens, in Kalapodi, on the island of Samos, in Tiryns (Peloponnese) and in Aegina. It maintains an extensive library and archive of photos.
The German Studies departments at the Universities of Athens and Thessaloniki is being supported with the secondment of three lectors. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has also operated a dedicated Information Centre in Athens since 2004. So far, more than 2,500 Greeks, mainly master’s and PhD students, have received DAAD scholarships and over 300 Humboldt research scholarships have been awarded. In the 2015-2016 winter semester, there were approximately 7,000 Greeks studying in Germany, excluding participants in the Erasmus programme, 3,800 of them resident and 3,200 non-resident students.