• 'Can this man be trusted?', the German-language press are asking (Photo: Council of European Union)

Attacks mount against 'master of lies' Juncker

10.05.11 @ 09:28

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Criticism is mounting against eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker for lying about a secret meeting last Friday of select EU finance ministers in his native Luxembourg to discuss the worsening Greek debt situation.

On Monday (9 May) a series of furious attacks on the chair of the group of EU states that use the single currency appeared in the German-language press, arguing that Juncker can no longer be trusted.

Ministers and their spokespeople across the eurozone had first denied or refused to comment on a report which appeared in Spiegel Online revealing that a secret meeting of senior EU officials was being held in a Luxembourg castle to consider a Greek exit from the euro.

The same officials later confirmed that the meeting took place, but that Greece returning to the drachma was never on the table. Juncker it appeared had invited finance ministers from France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, ostensibly under the aegis of the EU members of the G20 (although the UK, a G20 member, was absent), along with Greece, the European Central Bank and Olli Rehn, the EU economy commissioner.

Juncker's spokesman, Guy Schuller, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "I totally deny that there is a meeting, these reports are totally wrong."

The development comes after the Luxembourgish prime minister admitted the week before during a Brussels conference on economic governance that over the course of his career, despite his Catholic upbringing, he often "had to lie" in order not to feed rumours and that economic policy was too important to be discussed in public. "I am for secret, dark debates," he quipped, according to an EUobserver report.

German press agency DAPD has quoted him as saying: "When the going gets tough, you have to lie."

On Monday, Austrian daily Der Standard attacked the Luxembourg prime minister as a "master of lies", also complaining that Juncker had invited the larger EU states but not the likes of Austria or Finland, describing the move as "a fatal error that multiplies the scepticism of the citizens."

"Juncker and his Round Table should be reminded that it was the small states in May 2010 that made the rescue package for Greece possible in the end."

Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung meanwhile complained that no one can believe what EU leaders, but particularly Juncker, say regarding the stability of the eurozone any more.

"Seldom have we seen politicians acting as irresponsibly as they did on Friday evening. In Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Luxembourg, officials were silent, deceptive or just plain lied," the paper thundered.

"Within a matter of hours, the governments of the euro countries managed to fritter away the last remaining trust the people of Europe still have in the bailout action."

"Who in the future is supposed to believe that Greece isn't interested in leaving the euro zone if Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the Euro Group, is taking the lead on the deception?"

A frustrated European diplomat told EUobserver the handling of the meeting was "amateur", adding: "What happened is silly. How is anyone going to trust what we say now?"

Meanwhile, Greek authorities are going after Spiegel Online for reporting "false news" about Greece considering withdrawal from the euro.

The Greek prosecutor has contacted German counterparts, requesting assistance in tracking down those responsible at Spiegel Online for the initial report.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Greek conundrum and EU Council President Herman van Rompuy will also be dropping in on the German leader to consider the next steps in the crisis.

The meetings will not take place in secret in a Luxembourg castle, but in Berlin.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that Chancellor Merkel was to travel to Brussels. In fact, the two EU presidents are to travel to Berlin.

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