Sunday

17th Nov 2019

Juncker: Greek No would be rejection of Europe

  • 'No would mean that Greece is saying No to Europe' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said Greeks should vote Yes in the referendum on creditors' conditions, because a No would amount to rejection of Europe.

In a no-holds-barred speech on Monday (29 June), Juncker said he felt "betrayed" by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ unexpected decision to call the vote and accused him of lies and populism in order to get a place in history books.

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  • The 'No' option is to be placed above the 'Yes' option on the ballot paper (Photo: Wikipedia)

Referring to Tsipras' use of the words "blackmail" and "ultimatum”, which he used on Friday before rejecting the creditors' latest proposals and calling the referendum, Juncker said: "Who is involved in that? Where are these threats coming from?”.

He added: “We don't deserve all this criticism”.

He also detailed many of the most controversial issues in the proposals, noting that "Greeks need to have a clear picture of what's at stake".

Eschewing the conventional niceties of not openly mixing in national politics, Juncker said Greeks must vote Yes on 5 July as the issue is about much more than the narrow question of the creditors' last paper.

"You must vote Yes, independently of the question asked”, said Juncker.

He said a No would be "disastrous for subsequent events”, adding that the "whole planet" would see it as meaning the country wants to "distance itself from the eurozone and from Europe".

"No would mean that Greece is saying No to Europe", he said at another point in the 40-minute press conference.

His speech was a rarity in the normally dry world of EU politics.

In what sounded like an address from the heart, Juncker said: "I am deeply distressed, saddened by the spectacle that Europe gave last Saturday”, noting that "European solidarity" is at stake.

On Saturday, euro finance ministers refused to extend Greece's bailout - which runs out on Tuesday (30 June) - putting into motion events that led to capital controls being imposed from Monday morning.

Blunt

Juncker's bluntness was just as unusual as his emotional tone.

He noted that the team of Greek negotiators sent to Brussels was "constantly changing" and that proposals coming from Athens were "delayed or deliberately altered".

He said there was a promise to discuss debt measures - debt relief is the bottom line for the Tsipras government - in autumn.

"Mr Tsipras knows his," he added.

"There are no wage cuts in this package. There are no pension cuts in this package. This is not a stupid austerity package”, he said.

Juncker accused Tsipras’ left-wing government of being reluctant to take decisions on what should be bread and butter issues for his own constituency, such as cutting defence spending and giving ship-owners a less favourable tax regime.

"We were the ones pushing for these elements”, said the commission chief.

His speech marks another turning point in attempts by both sides to win the hearts and minds of Greek people.

The question

The Greek government has said it will campaign for a No vote, while Greek media and commentators have noted that the referendum question is exceedingly complicated.

The question is, according to an unofficial translation by a Greek source: “Should the plan of agreement be accepted, which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup of 25.06.2015 and comprises of two parts, which constitute their unfifed proposal? The first document is entitled ‘Reforms for the Completion of the Current Programme and Beyond’ and the second ‘Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis’.”

Experts also note the No option is to be placed above the Yes option on the ballot paper.

Meanwhile, the German and French leaders have also indicated that Greek voters will be deciding on the wider question of euro membership on Sunday.

German chancellor Angela Merkel repeated on Monday that the "if the euro fails, Europe fails”, with the single currency seen first and foremost as a political project.

If the Greeks vote Yes, it remains unclear whether the Tsipras government, which is so vigorously against the proposal, can stay in power.

There are no provisions in the treaty foreseeing how a country would leave the single currency.

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