European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that Greek finance minister Varoufakis was “not helping the negotiation process. Mr Varoufakis is the finance minister of a country that has to confront huge problems and he doesn’t give the feeling that he knows that,” Juncker told the MNI Irish news agency. Asked by the MNI reporter whether he trusted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Juncker took 14 seconds to answer “yes” but said Tsipras was becoming “increasingly responsible.”
In the interview Juncker also presented his opinions on what concessions should be made from each side in the tough negotiations while saying it was imperative to achieve a deal that includes the International Monetary Fund, which is awaiting a 300-million-euro repayment from Greece next week. The EC president is talking to MNI and he seems to be willing to put his foot down. He says that there is an increasing sentiment among “reasonable EU leaders” that a default must be avoided.
Perhaps the most striking assumption to be taken from that is that there are other leaders who aren’t being reasonable and want Greece to shape up or ship out
Referring to proposed changes to the Greek value-added tax system that are under discussion, Juncker said these reforms must yield 1.8 billion euros, or 1 percent of gross domestic product, in order to narrow a fiscal gap. He said pension reform was also crucial, pointing to the large proportion of early retirements in Greece in particular, while suggesting that labour reforms – another sticking point – could be postponed until the fall.
The Brussels Group negotiations resume on Wednesday with a Euro Working Group teleconference expected to take place on Thursday.
In Athens, government sources said they expected a deal by the weekend so an emergency Eurogroup can be held next Tuesday.
The credible Mr Junker
With the UK – EU negotiations underway a lot of British media interest is refocused on Mr Junker, who has repeatedly denied he has a drink problem, his lack of awareness in Luxemburg turning into an EU tax haven for multinational corporations dodging national taxes during his 18 years in office and the spying scandal that drove him from office.
Mr Junker was one of the architects of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union and the single currency, and after the eurozone crisis, has no desire to see integration stall.
Mr Juncker was head of the Eurogroup during the eurozone bailouts and was accused on several occasions of being less than frank about what was doing on. For example, he denied European finance ministers were holding a meeting to discuss Greece’s membership of the euro, despite organising the gathering, and once memorably said: “When it becomes serious, you have to lie.”