It was and still is a heavy accusation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of having twisted his words regarding proposals to solve the debt crisis and that he was “not telling the truth to the Greek people”. Juncker indirectly but clearly implied that the Greek PM was a “liar”.
“I’m blaming the Greeks to tell things to the Greek public that are not consistent with what I told the Greek prime minister,” a furious Juncker said during a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon. He was referring to his meeting with Tsipras a week ago, during which he (Juncker) had handed him (Tsipras) a 5-page document with the creditors’ proposals for a Greek deal.
“I’m not in favour, and the prime minister knows that, I’’m not in favor of increasing VAT on medicaments and electricity,” Juncker stressed obviously angered and apparently deeply hurt and offended by something that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had said earlier.
Speaking to the parliamentary group of SYRIZA, Tsipras had accused “the Institutions” – that is Greece’s creditors IMF, EU and ECB -, for demanding further “pension cuts and V.A.T. hikes.”
Excerpt from Tsipras’ speech
“Instead of an answer [to the Greek 47-page proposal] on the part of the Institutions to this proposal we received – shortly after – a brief text of five pages that actually ignored the negotiations and repeated the proposals for pension cuts, dramatic increases in VAT, even in electricity that affects the average household, proposals for scrapping the EKAS [poverty allowance] and may more irrational, unrealistic and unacceptable proposals.
And all this despite the fact that everyone knows that pensions in our country have undergone dramatic cuts in the last five year and that 2/3 of pensioners in Greece receive pensions below or near the threshold of relative poverty.
[…] While they seem to ignore the fact that the VAT increase in energy at even ten points, is actually a cut to the real wages. They suggest horizontal cuts in real income. And when we say horizontal this concerns those who have and those who have not, because electricity is a commodity essential to life.” (via Prime Ministry Greece official website)
At no point of his 20-minute long speech Tsipras makes a reference to Jean-Claude Juncker, but he refers to “The Institutions” and at a point to “the EU” as an institution of the European Union. But Juncker took Tsipras’ criticism personally, so to say perceived it as an arrow right in the middle of his heart full of honest feelings towards the Greek people, allegedly confusing private thoughts with official duties, role and position.
“I don’t care about the Greek government, I do care about the Greek people, mainly the poorest part,” Juncker stressed – for one more time in recent weeks, if I am not wrong.
He underlined that VAT hikes in medicines and electricity “would be a major mistake if Greece would be obliged to do that,” and added that he had offered other measures for fiscal improvements like “moderate cuts in military expenditure.”
What is odd is that also the 47-page Greek reforms plan contained “military expenditure cuts” but the Greek government had said that “this was rejected by the Institutions.”
Nevertheless, Juncker was very angry and revealed that it was him who stopped the negotiations over the weekend.
“I decided to stop the negotiations because the negotiations, given the Greek position, were leading nowhere,” Juncker said and added that:
“I think the debate in Greece and outside Greece would be easier, if the Greek government would tell exactly what the commission, being one of the three institutions in charge of all this, are really proposing.”
Video: Juncker presser
“The text that was officially submitted to the Greek prime minister by the three institutions [though Juncker] last Wednesday contained 10% VAT hikes in electricity, 4.5% VAT hikes in medicines, elimination of solidarity grant (EKAS), increasing revenues from VAT by €1.8 billion, reduce pension expenditure by €1.8 billion, ” Sakellaridis said and added:
“We never said that these were the views of the Commission and the personal views of Mr Juncker, but that they were an proposal designed by the three institutions. It is positive that Mr Juncker makes a differentiation to this direction.”
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis added the icing on the top.
“The European Commission President either did not read the paper he gave to Alexis Tsipras or he read it and forgot it,” Varoufakis pointed out speaking to state broadcaster ERT.
At the end of the day, the war of words was in full swing.
Wednesday morning, Greek government sources told private Skai TV and ANT1 TV that
“On Sunday, the European Commission had given a paper with proposals containing more flexible measures to the Greek delegation [Tsakalotos, Pappas, Dragasakis] but without knowledge of the other two Institutions.”
According to Greek daily Efimerida Ton Syntakton, the proposals paper handed out by the European Commission to the Greek delegation on Sunday, sets stringent targets in order to reach an agreement, but it leaves it up to the Greek side how to achieve the fiscal targets.
“The text of Mr. Juncker that was given to the Greek delegation without the knowledge of the ECB and the IMF, notes that in order to reach the primary surpluses Athens needs to collect taxes worth 1% of GDP from VAT and 1% of the GDP from the social security. However it leaved it up to the Greek government how to move in order to achieve these targets. In other words, Juncker’s paper did not have cuts in poverty allowance (EKAS) and pensions and no specific increases in VAT rates.”
If Juncker had given indeed such a paper, no wonder he got angry on Tuesday, yet without a real reason because he was not explicitly mentioned by Tsipras. But…
It is not the first time, Juncker accuses the Greek government of lying. He did so as well at the G7 Summit in Bavaria, beginning of the month. He accused Alexis Tsipras of undermining the negotiations over new terms for a bailout and of effectively lying to the Greek parliament.
And it is not the first time, that Juncker makes his own proposals to the Greek side. He had handed a paper with proposals beginning of February. Too bad, that the other two Institutions, Germany included, did not agree with Juncker’s private mission of good will.
So what’s the point of submitting proposals that the other two creditors’ Institutions reject? What’s the point of
Jean-Claude Juncker has to clearly separate his private ambitions as a honest broker and as representative of Europe’s top institution. He has to clarify for himself the discrepancy “private views vs official positions”. He should also double check the information he receives by his staff and remove manipulation strategists. In addition, he should be transparent and stop working behind the other creditors’ back thus misleading the Greek side.
Oh, and he has to take some classes on Anger Management.
At any case, Jean-Claude Juncker has to look deep into these problems and solve them as soon as possible. He is the President of the European Commission, after all.
I heard this morning, that the EC plans to issue a statement on the Juncker-Greek government issue. If he had told Tsipras he had other proposals and if he had handed out a separate paper on Sunday, he has to clearly admit it and make it public. Otherwise it is him who undermines the negotiations process.
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