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22 Mar 2017

Djisselbloem under fire for remarks on southern EU countries

It seems that the catastrophic performance of the Dutch Labour party (PvdA) in the recent parliamentary elections, has made Jeroen Djisselbloem angry and incautious. Djisselbloem made derogatory comments about the people that live in Southern European countries, in an interview for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper.

Djisselbloem, who holds the position of the president of Eurogroup, said that “during the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis. As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. But you also have obligations. You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and, then, ask for help. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and European level.” The Dutch Finance minister put himself at the center of controversy once again, after he was exposed in 2013 for using a fake CV that showed him having a master’s degree from University College of Cork (UCC) which he never obtained.

His remarks caught the attention of members of the European Parliament (EP), especially from the southern EU countries. During a hearing in the EP, Djisselbloem got under fire by angry MEPs who called his remarks “vulgar” and “insulting”. Spanish MEP Ernest Urtasun attacked the president of Eurogroup by saying, “maybe it is funny for you, but I don’t think it is. I would like to know if this is your statement as a candidate to renew your post as president of the Eurogroup.” Gianni Pitella, the head of the Socialist group in the EP, questioned whether Djisselbloem can continue being the president of such an important institution. Pitella commented: “Djisselbloem went too far by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of the south. There is no excuse or reason for using such language, especially from someone that is supposed to be a progressive. This is not the first time that he expresses opinions that are openly in contradiction with the line of European progressive family.”

Portugal’s minister for foreign affairs, Santos Silva, called on Djisselbloem to resign. Silva told reporters that “it seems that the president of the Eurogroup has spent all these years without understanding what really happened to countries like Portugal, Spain or Ireland.” Luis de Guindos, the Spanish Finance minister, attacked the Dutch politician for his negative portrayal of southern countries. “I don’t think that Portugal, Cyprus, Greece or Ireland have wasted money. Solidarity is important.” Silva said.

Djisselbloem tried to control the uneasy situation for him in the EP. He first refused to retract his comments even though he was repeatedly asked to do so. He told the MEPs to not be offended by his comments and he continued saying that “it is not about one country, but about all of our countries.” He attempted to brush off criticism by saying that all countries have failed to uphold the financial rules set by the EU. “The Netherlands also failed to comply with what was agreed some years ago. I don’t really see a conflict between EU regions.”

Djisselbloem may lose his job as the Dutch Finance minister, since his party is expected to be left out of the new coalition government in The Hague. His term as president is ending in January 2018. A proposal for the creation of a permanent presidency of Eurogroup seems to interest him, but with inflammatory comments like that, it is highly unlikely that he will achieve what he wants.