Former European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker criticized outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling the Greek debt crisis in 2015 on Thursday, saying that her “hesitations” and “reluctance” undermined efforts to deal with the situation.
“I think her biggest failure was the reluctance she showed during the Greek crisis because of her hesitations and her reluctance, we were losing time. Greece could have been helped earlier,” Juncker told Euronews in an interview.
Journalists from the Euronews TV channel spoke to the former EU Commission President, asking him to give some insight into Merkel’s time as Chancellor and her role within the EU.
The outgoing German chancellor is by far the longest-serving political figure amongst all current EU leaders. She helped steer the bloc through the migration crisis, the euro crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is her real European legacy?
Juncker often clashed with Merkel over Greek debt measures
“What you’ve described and how she’s generally described is as a pragmatist politician. But to you, what was her biggest achievement and what was her biggest failure?” asked Euronews’ Efi Koutsokosta. “I think her biggest failure was the reluctance she showed during the Greek crisis because of her hesitations and her reluctance, we were losing time. Greece could have been helped earlier,” answered the former Commission chief.
Juncker said he often clashed with Merkel about Greece because her own parliamentary group and the German media “did not respect the dignity of the Greek people. I was telling her that Greece was different from the view she had on Greece,” he said.
Talking about the former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Juncker said he was a good friend of his and very pro-European. “He wanted to exclude Greece on a temporary basis from the euro area. I was a strong opponent to that idea,” Juncker added.
“Merkel never shared that idea, but she never was denying the usefulness of that idea. But by the end of the day, she’s always reasoning in a perspective, she thought that this could lead us into troubled waters with Italy and some others.”
Juncker first praises, then criticizes Merkel over handling of Greek debt crisis
Concerning Merkel’s biggest achievement, Juncker discussed “the role she played during the refugee crisis back in August, September 2015. She was strictly against the idea to close the German border between Austria, Tyrol and Bavaria, Germany because there (too) her thinking was a perspective oriented way of approaching this major crisis.
“I had her on the phone in August, September 15 – all the time, and we were meeting very often, she said: ‘what will be the image of the European Union to the outside world and what will be the image of Germany to the outside world if we are closing the borders, if we are putting army and policemen on the border with Austria, rejecting these poor people? Many of them coming from Syria, others from Afghanistan coming from everywhere, poor people, desperate people'”.
Juncker repeatedly praised Greece
A couple of weeks ago, Juncker had praised Greece for its “Herculean efforts” during his annual state of the union address to the European Parliament a few days before. Juncker stated that Greece has succeeded in concluding the stability program and can stand on its own feet again. “We must hail the Greek people’s Herculean efforts; efforts that some Europeans still continue to underestimate,” he said.
“I always supported Greece — its dignity and its role in Europe, and specifically its remaining in the eurozone. I am proud of all these things,” he added. Three years ago, while still acting EU Commission president, Juncker said that Europeans should be proud of the single currency, adding that instead of dividing Europe, it protected it.
“I am also proud that we stood up for Greece, which is now growing again and outperforming its fiscal targets. We still have work to do, but I believe the successful conclusion of the Greek program is within touching distance. This would be a remarkable achievement and testament to the efforts of the Greek people,” said in an economic forum in Brussels in 2018.