Eurozone countries should speak with one voice, Juncker says
Countries using the euro should speak with one voice and be represented by one seat in the International Monetary Fund in order to be more credible, the president of the eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Tuesday (15 April).
Referring to an idea raised by French president Nicolas Sarkozy that the eurozone – the 15 countries that have adopted the single currency – should be represented by one single voice internationally, Mr Juncker said he too thought this was "the only way to go."
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"It is absurd for those 15 countries not to agree to have a single representation at the IMF. It makes us look absolutely ridiculous. We are regarded as buffoons on the international scene," the group's president said at a conference in Brussels.
EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia said eurozone countries should first adopt the same political agenda before thinking about common representation.
"Once the policy agenda is defined, it's easier to have a single voice and then it's easier to advance to a single representation," Mr Almunia told a news conference on Tuesday.
ECB to remain independent
Mr Juncker underlined that any move in this direction would not mean interfering with the European Central Bank's affairs – something that Mr Sarkozy has been accused of wanting to do.
The French president has on several occasions criticised the ECB - the institution in charge of the eurozone's monetary policy. Last year, he suggested organising extra eurozone summits for leaders to debate monetary policy.
France had also pushed for the bank to be written into the EU's new treaty as one of the bloc's institutions – something which would have made it more of a political institution that could be influenced by national member states.
"The eurogroup respects the independence of the ECB. It is out of the question for governments to influence the policy of the ECB," said Mr Juncker.
Since 1999, 15 EU countries have introduced the euro as their currency – Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain.
But "in fifteen to twenty years all  member states will be members of the eurozone," Mr Juncker said.
EU less affected by financial crisis than US
Speaking about the ongoing financial turmoil triggered by the real estate crisis in the US last year, both commissioner Almunia and the eurogroup's president said that the eurozone would be less affected by it than the US.
"The situation is not the same. Here in Europe we don't have subprime, we don't have investment banks with the same problem," Mr Almunia said, while admitting "we are also suffering a slowdown."
"We have better tools in our hand to help us weather this turmoil," he added.
Mr Juncker also stressed the differences between the European and the American economies. "We have the growth rate that is maintained and we are not likely to reach the level of recession that they have in the US," he said.
But he warned that "the financial crisis has not yet come to its term, it will persist throughout the whole of 2008 and into 2009."