19th Mar 2018

Eurogroup chief: 'I'm for secret, dark debates'

  • Juncker: Not a fan of transparency when it comes to economic policy (Photo: Council of European Union)

Eurozone economic policies should only be conducted in "dark secret rooms", to prevent dangerous movements in financial markets, the Eurogroup chief said on Wednesday (20 April), adding that he had often lied in his career to prevent the spread of rumours that could feed speculation.

As exists in the case of monetary policy, all economic decisions should now be discussed behind closed doors, he said

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"Monetary policy is a serious issue. We should discuss this in secret, in the Eurogroup," Jean-Claude Juncker said at a Brussels conference on economic governance organised by the European Movement, an organisation that promotes European integration, referring to matters already long since outsourced from national parliaments to independent central banks.

"The same applies to economic and monetary policies in the Union. If we indicate possible decisions, we are fuelling speculations on the financial markets and we are throwing in misery mainly the people we are trying to safeguard from this."

"I'm ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious," he said.

Under his line of reasoning, ministers and EU leaders who discuss financial matters in public put "millions of people at risk" due to wild swings in financial markets produced by their public commentary.

"I am for secret, dark debates," he quipped.

"There is insufficient awareness at the European level when it comes to these issues, because each of us wants to show his domestic public that he's the greatest guy under the sky," Juncker noted.

Having served as finance minister and then premier of Luxembourg for the past 22 years, Juncker pointed out that over the course of his career, despite his Catholic upbringing, he often "had to lie" in order not to feed rumours.

A conference-goer suggested that removing the secrecy in EU meetings could prevent markets from moving on rumour and speculations, Juncker said that could not be done because ministers and EU leaders need time to reach decisions.

"Actions on the financial markets are taking place in real time. We don't always agree at each and every debate on monetary policy, but meanwhile markets are reacting."

Juncker also used the occasion to give his endorsement to changes the European Parliament has made to EU economic governance legislation, amendments that tighten the European Commission's role as fiscal-policy policeman, watching over member-state economic decisions.

He said the European Parliament's amendments are "pointing in the right direction" and he was hopeful that an agreement between member states and the EU legislature could be reached before June, so that EU leaders could adopt the final version at a summit mid-June.

However, the Eurogroup chief could not hide his scepticism as to the effectiveness of all such measures, particularly the so-called Euro-plus-pact aimed at boosting competitiveness and adopted by EU leaders in March.

"I was never a strong believer of this Euro-plus-pact. I can't criticise it too much, since I also approved it, but if I was alone, I would not have adopted it. There is nothing new in it. All ideas had already been on the table of the Council [of ministers], but there was never much political will to implement them."

Surveillance policies, so that countries do not run huge budget deficits and fall into a vortex of debt and low credit ratings, had also been in place, but were ignored by "the very sinners who are now preaching about the need to enhance surveillance" - France and Germany.

Ireland's and Spain's real-estate problems, Greece's lack of budgetary discipline "were all mentioned in the Eurogroup, but ministers rejected the idea of interfering in domestic affairs," he said.

"Every one is now discovering the virtues of co-ordinating economic policies, even though these are rather old and unsuccessful stories," Juncker said, listing a whole series of such attempts: the macro-economic guidelines of the 90s, the stability and growth pact watered down by France and Germany, the Cardiff process, the Luxembourg process, the Lisbon Agenda.

"Don't be impressed when a new process is invented. It was not the absence of instruments, but the lack of political will to implement them [that led to the current crisis.]"

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS (20 April) - Eurogroup chief and Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker telling how he "had to lie" in his career in order not to feed market speculations. He was speaking at a conference on economic governance organised by the European Movement.

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