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
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.