Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Eurozone chief in 'drinks and women' row

  • Dijsselbloem: "I know my statement, it came from this mouth." (Photo: Council of the EU)

[Updated on Wednesday 22 March at 14.00] Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem is facing calls for resignation after suggesting that crisis-hit countries in southern Europe spent "money on drinks and women" before being helped by others.

"As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. [But] you also have obligations. You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help," said Dijsselbloem in an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published on Monday (20 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Asked on Tuesday in a European Parliament hearing whether he apologised for his comment, Dijsselbloem answered: "No, certainly not. That's not what I said."

But when Ernest Urtasun, an MEP from the Catalonian Green Left, read his comment, Dijsselbloem said: "I know my statement, it came from this mouth."

"What I made very explicit is that solidarity comes with strong commitments and responsibility, and otherwise solidarity will not hold," he argued. "You cannot maintain public support for solidarity if it doesn't come with commitment and responsibility and effort on all sides."

Dijsselbloem is finance minister of the Netherlands, one of the most hawkish countries when it comes to fiscal discipline. As Eurogroup president since 2013, he is also in charge of the management of the eurozone by its finance ministers, including bailouts in countries such as Greece or Portugal.

In statement published on Tuesday, the Portuguese government said that Dijsselbloem's comments were "absolutely unacceptable" and called for his resignation.

"A lot of people understand that the president of the Eurogroup is not in a position to remain as the chair of the Eurogroup and the Portuguese government shares this view," the government added.

The Portuguese government is a coalition led by the Socialist Antonio Costa, a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES) as Dijsselbloem. The Eurogroup chief's position was also called into question by the Social-Democratic leader in the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella.

"It is not the first time Jeroen Dijsselbloem expresses opinions, economic and political stances which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family," he said in a statement.

Pittella, an Italian, added that Dijsselbloem's "drink and women" remarks were "shameful and shocking", and "went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe".

"I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup," he said.

On Wednesday, the head of the PES, Bulgaria's Sergei Stanishev said that "Dijsselbloem’s words don’t represent PES" and are "simply unacceptable".

"With just one sentence Dijsselbloem managed to insult and discredit so many people and spread divisions," Stanishev said in a statement, without using the Dutch minister's first name.

In Rome, former prime minister Matteo Renzi said that Dijsselbloem "missed an excellent opportunity to be silent". "The sooner he resigns, the better," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Luis de Guindos, Dijsselbloem's Spanish colleague in the Eurogroup but hailing from the center-right EPP party, said that the comment was "not fortunate" and that he would have expected that Dijsselbloem would be "sorry" about it.

"I don't think that Portugal, Greece, Cyprus or Ireland have squandered," he told journalists after a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

Margrethe Vestager, The EU competition commissioner, said that she "would not have said that". "I think it is wrong," she added.

The commission's spokesman declined "to comment on comments" but added that the EU executive chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, "has always expressed his respect, his sympathy and even his love for Europe's southern flank".

The controversy comes at a delicate moment for Dijsselbloem, whose future as chair of the Eurogroup already looked uncertain.

His Labour Party suffered a heavy defeat in the Dutch elections last week and its chances to participate in the future government "are very slim", admitted Dijsselbloem.

"Let's be realistic, my turn as finance minister will most likely come to an end," he told reporters after a Eurogroup meeting on Monday.

His mandate as Eurogroup chair ends in January 2018, and there is no clear rule as to whether the position can be held by a politician who is not a minister.

He added that talks to form the next government could take several months. "If there is a gap, it's up to the Eurogroup to decide how they want to proceed," he said on Monday.

"Dutch voters didn't elect me as Eurogroup president, it was the other ministers," he argued, suggesting that losing his portfolio at home should not mean the end of his term in Brussels.

Dijsselbloem stated that "It's an important responsibility from which I don't want to walk away."

Portuguese minister favourite in 'open' Eurogroup race

Mario Centeno has the backing of the Socialists who claim the post. But the Slovak and Latvian candidates could appeal to the supporters of fiscal discipline, while the Luxembourgish hopeful seems to be outdistanced.

EU bleeding untold billions to fraud

Over €6bn of EU taxpayers' money was stolen by criminals in recent years and over €130m is still being lost each year, EU auditors said.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  2. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  3. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  4. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  5. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  6. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  7. German economy hit by global economic turbulence
  8. MEPs narrowly call for end to 'tampon tax'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us