Juncker on Greece, Europe and the cri­sis

For­mer Eurogroup chair­man and Lux­em­bourg pre­mier speaks frankly about the role of the IMF, EC, ECB and eu­ro­zone in coun­try’s bailout

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Jean-Claude Juncker, the for­mer chair­man of the Eurogroup and cur­rent prime min­is­ter of Lux­em­bourg, tells Kathimerini that he had a bat­tle on his hands to en­sure that Greece re­mained in the eu­ro­zone dur­ing his term at the helm of the fo­rum of eu­ro­zone fi­nance min­is­ters. He di­rects stern crit­i­cism at Greece’s in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors – the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank – as well as some mem­ber states that, he says, ei­ther pre­vented steps from be­ing taken that would have al­lowed wealth­ier Greeks to take on a big­ger bur­den for the coun­try’s re­cov­ery or who acted in ac­cor­dance with the mood of the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets and wanted to see Greece “pun­ished.”

We had to ring-fence be­cause the con­ta­gion risk was enor­mous. Had we ac­cepted the con­ta­gion risk we wouldn’t be sit­ting here to­gether, be­cause then the whole of the euro area would have dis­ap­peared in one wave, in one move mainly driven by spec­u­la­tors bid­ding against the euro and bid­ding against the co­her­ence and the co­he­sion of the euro area. I don’t think that the IMF is right, al­though I like the fact that the IMF is in­creas­ingly self-crit­i­cal. I never doubted that Greece would have the ca­pac­ity, the tal­ent, the en­ergy to over­come this cri­sis and I never doubted that Greek ge­nius, which is his­tor­i­cally proven, would be of such an ex­tra­or­di­nary vol­ume, or that this cri­sis could be fought suc­cess­fully by the Greek au­thor­i­ties and by the Greek peo­ple. But I have to say, al­though I never doubted the fi­nal out­come, from time to time I doubted the right­ness of the mea­sures im­posed on Greece or ne­go­ti­ated with Greece. I am of the opin­ion that the wealth­i­est part of Greek so­ci­ety was not asked to sub­mit to the same amount of con­tri­bu­tion as the weak­est part of Greek so­ci­ety. It’s the mod­est Greeks, the poorer Greeks, who had to suf­fer most. And th­ese were my doubts. Th­ese are still my doubts. And the IMF is not truly crit­i­ciz­ing that. I am crit­i­ciz­ing that. The IMF was push­ing for that which I am crit­i­ciz­ing. Not only the IMF, but the Com­mis­sion, the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank and mem­ber states – not me – were push­ing, in the gen­eral frame­work of the ad­just­ment pro­grams, to im­pose new sac­ri­fices on the poorer part of Greek so­ci­ety. I was fight­ing – just as an ex­am­ple – against the re­duc­tion of the min­i­mum wage in Greece. I can speak about the Eurogroup now in a dif­fer­ent way than I used to when [I was chair­man]. I wanted to de­fend what I con­sid­ered at the time to be the weak­est part of the Greek work force against this re­quest by the troika mem­bers. I was sur­prised that I didn’t have the sup­port of each and ev­ery one of the Eurogroup.

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