A few weeks ago, the entire world was made aware that nobody in Europe is to be trusted any longer after Jean Claude Jun(c)ker admitted he lied to the media ahead of what Spiegel had leaked earlier was a "secret" meeting to kick Greece out of the eurozone (turned out to be only half true - Greece was not and will not be kicked out... voluntarily). The purpose for the lie: "self-preservation." Today, in a much anticipated showdown between the magazine (which Greece said would sue for spreading salacious, yet true, rumors), and the bureaucrat, we learn that it is not Goldman, but Europe, that is doing God's work by lying on a daily basis about the Greek insolvency: "The most important commandment is not to inflict harm on others. Although it isn't stated quite that way in the Ten Commandments, it follows from them. The finance ministers of several Euro Group nations had agreed to meet on Friday with the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet. Because the financial markets in Europe were still open and trading was still underway on Wall Street, we had to deny the existence of the meeting. Otherwise the course of the euro against the dollar, which had already fallen as a result of your report, would have plunged disastrously." Ah yes, doing God's will by focusing on the greater good, which is making sure those EURUSD longs are not impaired. If this is not confirmation that Europe is run by sociopaths, then nothing is. All this, and much more, including such pearls as "If the donkey were a cat it could climb a tree. But it is not a cat" read the full surreal interview below.
From Spiegel Online
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, you are a Christian Democrat and a
Catholic, which is why we want to talk to you about the Ten
Juncker: I already have an idea of what you are getting at.
SPIEGEL: Are you familiar with the Eighth Commandment?
Juncker: Of course. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
SPIEGEL: Apparently you don't take it very seriously. More than two weeks ago, you denied a
by SPIEGEL ONLINE about a secret meeting of several European Union
finance ministers to discuss the situation in Greece, even though the
official limousines were already pulling up in Luxembourg.
Juncker: The most important commandment is not to inflict harm on
others. Although it isn't stated quite that way in the Ten
Commandments, it follows from them. The finance ministers of several
Euro Group nations had agreed to meet on Friday with the president of
the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet. Because the
financial markets in Europe were still open and trading was still
underway on Wall Street, we had to deny the existence of the meeting.
Otherwise the course of the euro against the dollar, which had already
fallen as a result of your report, would have plunged disastrously.
SPIEGEL: With this false denial, you not only harmed your own credibility, but that of European financial policy as well.
Juncker: And it didn't exactly enhance the credibility of SPIEGEL
ONLINE to disseminate the false report that we were meeting in
Luxembourg to discuss Greece's withdrawal from the monetary union.
SPIEGEL: Forgive us for saying so, but SPIEGEL ONLINE had
obtained information to that effect from government sources, as well as a
working document prepared specifically for this meeting for the German
Juncker: It is not unusual for finance ministers to have
documents with them that contain all of the issues being discussed in
public. And the question of Greece's withdrawal from the monetary union
is certainly being discussed in public. But that's a far cry from saying
that the issue is on the agenda of a meeting. As a result, I had to be
all the more careful to ensure that no unnecessary turbulence would
occur in the markets.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that, as a finance minister in the age of global capital markets, you cannot tell people the truth?
Juncker: I do not have a ready answer to your question. My main
concern is to protect people from detriment. That's why I feel
practically compelled to make sure that no dangerous rumors begin to
circulate. I'm certainly not going to go to confession because of a
false denial. God understands more about the financial markets than many
who write about them.
SPIEGEL: Former German President Horst Köhler described the
financial markets as a "monster." Has this monster changed the way in
which politicians can communicate?
Juncker: Without a doubt. When I do not confirm a course of
events even though I ought to, I know exactly why I am doing so. In
light of the nervousness of the financial markets, it is difficult for
us to keep the public adequately and correctly informed all the time.
This is regrettable, but unfortunately it's also unavoidable.
SPIEGEL: When secret meetings are held and the truth isn't always
being told, people gain the impression that there must be something
wrong with this Europe.
Juncker: People understand perfectly well that politicians have
to discuss sensitive issues behind closed doors. I had 10 seconds to
decide how to react to the report in SPIEGEL ONLINE. Let us say,
hypothetically, that I had said: "Okay, we are having a meeting, but I'm
not going to tell you what we intend to talk about." That would have
triggered a tsunami in the financial markets. Instead, I chose to
produce a small wave of outrage over a white lie.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, we'd like to try aiming for the truth: How bad is the situation for Greece really?
Juncker: Greece has not adequately implemented the consolidation
program to which it had agreed. Revenues are 9 percent below the target,
the reform of the tax system is not proceeding as agreed and the
planned privatization efforts haven't even been initiated. We were very
direct in trying to explain these failings to our Greek friends at the
last meeting of the European Union finance ministers.
SPIEGEL: What does Athens have to change?
Juncker: There are quite a few things Greece can do to clean up
its budget. The government bureaucracy is bloated and needs to be
reduced in size. Besides, the country has significant assets that the
SPIEGEL: Experts estimate the value of these public assets at about €300 billion ($426 billion).
Juncker: I can't confirm that number. However, I do assume that
with privatizations, the Greek government will be able to generate far
more revenue over the years than the €50 billion it actually proposed.
SPIEGEL: But the Greek government will hardly achieve that of its own accord. Don't you have to apply more pressure to Athens?
Juncker: In the future, the European Union will monitor the
privatization program as tightly as if we were implementing it
ourselves. For example, I would welcome it if our Greek friends were to
establish a privatization agency independent of the government, based on
the model of Germany's Treuhandanstalt privatization agency (which
managed the privatization of East German enterprises after
reunification), one that would also be staffed with foreign experts. In
addition, the European community of nations expects the two major
political groups in the country to settle their petty differences when
it comes to this critical political issue. The government and the
opposition should jointly declare their commitment to the reform
agreements with the EU.
SPIEGEL: The country's debt burden is so large that even tough
austerity programs and loans are not enough to pull it out of the
crisis. Why don't you finally admit that Greece is broke?
Juncker: Greece is not broke. That is what the experienced
experts with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central
Bank tell us. I am firmly convinced that, in a joint effort, we can lead
Greece out of the crisis.
SPIEGEL: The total debt amounts to almost 160 percent of Greece's
economic output. With such a debt burden, how is the country ever
supposed to make any headway?
Juncker: The United States and Japan also have high debt levels, and yet no one would claim that those countries are bankrupt.
SPIEGEL: But Japan and the United States have their own currencies, which they can devalue, if necessary.
Juncker: That option is not open to Greece -- I'll acknowledge
that. Nevertheless, it doesn't mean that the government is powerless. On
the contrary, Greece can bolster its competitiveness, and it can pursue
a reasonable economic policy and generate more growth.
SPIEGEL: Hope springs eternal.
Juncker: No, I am just considering the alternatives. If Greece
were to declare a national bankruptcy tomorrow, the country would have
no access to the international financial market for years to come, and
its most important creditors, the banks in Germany and Europe, would
have an enormous problem -- with incalculable consequences for the
SPIEGEL: But you exaggerate. The European lenders are in a better
position than two years ago, and now many countries have established
their own bailout instruments to protect against bank crashes.
Juncker: I would be cautious in that regard. We are still at the
epicenter of a global crisis. We are dealing with largely irrational
markets, nervous investors and rating agencies whose conclusions don't
always make complete sense. I'll stick to my argument: In the case of a
national bankruptcy with a subsequent debt restructuring, we would be
letting a genie out of the bottle without knowing in which direction it
would be flying.
SPIEGEL: The banks, which are you so quick to criticize, are the
ones that stand to benefit. They can rake in high profits for their
Greece investments and be sure that German or Dutch taxpayers will carry
the risks in the end. How do you intend to convey this to people?
Juncker: An economic system in which the profits are privatized
and the risks socialized goes against my basic convictions. However, we
must be careful that we do not blow up the global financial system by
insisting on regulatory principles. That is why I advise exercising as
much restraint as possible when it comes to the notion, which is
certainly justified, of asking private lenders to participate in the
costs of the crisis.
SPIEGEL: That's why you have argued for a "soft restructuring." What exactly do you mean by that?
Juncker: First Greece will have to fulfill its consolidation
program, as promised. Once that has happened, we can think about
extending the terms of public and private loans and reducing interest
rates. That is what I mean by a "soft restructuring." It would be the
very last step in a very long process.
SPIEGEL: European Central Bank President Trichet doesn't even
want to consider that. Can you understand why he is strictly against any
form of debt restructuring?
Juncker: Trichet is very cautious when it comes to debt
restructuring, because he is afraid, and rightfully so, that the crisis
could then spread to other countries. That is why a soft restructuring
can only be an option in specific cases and only under certain
SPIEGEL: Could you be more specific, please?
Juncker: It has to be ensured that the rating agencies will not
treat a soft restructuring as a default. Otherwise the banks would have
to write off billions in claims, with incalculable consequences for the
SPIEGEL: With all due respect to your restraint on the question
of restructuring, what happens if we're sitting here again next year and
conclude that Greece is still not on a stabilization course?
Juncker: If the donkey were a cat it could climb a tree. But it
is not a cat. Nevertheless, this is a question that worries many people.
My answer to it is almost a little theological: I do not believe that
this question will ever be asked.
SPIEGEL: Many people are not as firm in their convictions as you
are. They fear that billions in tax revenues will soon be sent to other
countries, which is why there is growing resistance across Europe
against further aid programs and the planned
(ESM, which is intended to go into effect in mid-2013 as a permanent
bailout fund for the common currency if it heads into troubled waters).
Juncker: So far, no European taxpayer has had to pay a cent for
the rescue of debt-ridden euro countries. On the contrary, Greece is
currently paying a substantial amount of interest to the donor
countries, whose tax revenues have not been needed yet.
SPIEGEL: But it could happen. German essayist Kurt Tucholsky once
said that the man on the street cannot understand the truth, but he can
often sense it very well.
Juncker: It is true that people usually have a healthy gut
feeling, and that also applies to the risks of the bailout packages. I
just thing it is wrong to completely indulge one's gut feeling.
SPIEGEL: There are growing demands within the parliamentary
groups of Germany's ruling parties to consult the parliament before a
euro country receives assistance from the ESM. Could you accept this?
Juncker: There are few central bankers who are troubled by the
notion that we need unanimity on central issues in Europe. But even in
times of crisis, we cannot undermine democracy. I completely understand
that parliamentarians want to be part of the decision-making process in
cases that affect the parliament's budgetary authority.
SPIEGEL: Europe isn't just in a financial crisis. Governments in
many places, spurred on by populists, are dialing back European
integration. Italy, France and Denmark are challenging the freedom to
travel. How do you explain this return to small state regionalism?
Juncker: As a Luxembourger, I do not like to hear that word.
After all, we are confirmed regionalists. But it is true that the
achievements of European integration are being questioned for short-term
political reasons. People have been asked to accept quite a few changes
in the last 20 years, from globalization to the reorganization of
Europe. If we do not structure the European project in such a way that
people can accept it, we run the risk that it will fail.
SPIEGEL: Skepticism about Europe pays off at the polls, as the example of the "True Finns" shows.
Juncker: We should not confuse politics with opinion polls. I
have noted with concern that there is a growing sense, even within
Europe's major parties, of having to yield to these moods. I warn
against imitating populists. In politics, you have to be willing to
accept criticism from time to time. If you want to have a discussion
with people, sometimes you have to stand in their path and say: "Stop.
It does not work this way." Those who simply run after voters can never
see them from the front.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Michael Sauga and Christoph Schult. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan