MEPs on the Economics Committee demand an apology from president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, for comments made to a newspaper, thought to be an reference to southern Europe, which were described as “insulting” and “machismo”. The demand came during the semi-annual economic dialogue between the Eurogroup president and the Economics committee when members also quizzed him about his continued appointment as head of the Eurogroup and about the possibility of a European monetary fund.

Since the results of the Dutch elections last week, when Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s Labour Party suffered heavy losses, there has been speculation about whether the politician will continue as President of the Eurogroup, particularly if he is replaced as the country’s finance minister.

Ernest Urtasun (Verts/ALE, SP) scathingly ask Mr Dijsselbloem whether a comment in a newspaper interview represented an opening bid to continue in his position. “In a newspaper article, you said ‘one cannot spend all the money on alcohol and women, and then ask for help’.  Is that your first statement in a campaign to continue as president of the Eurogroup?” he asked. 

Mr Dijsselbloem sidestepped Mr Urtasun’s demand for an apology. He explained that his comments were about the reciprocal nature of European solidarity. “Solidarity comes with strong commitments and responsibility and effort from all sides,” he said.

But this explanation failed to satisfy other MEPs including Gabriel Mato (EPP,  SP) who continued to pressed for an apology. “Your words were insulting, rude and expressed machismo. I believe that as the president of the Eurogroup, you are not entitled to say such things targeting specific countries. You should represent all members unconditionally.”

Greek bailout package

Dimitris Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL, EL) and Notas Marias (ECR, EL) were more interested in the details of the Greek bailout package. Mr Marias pointed out that around a quarter of the €86 billion set aside for the bailout remained unspent.  He wanted to know why the money was not used for social welfare or to create a fund for non-performing loans.

 “Why do you impose 100 percent of austerity measure, when we do not spent 25 percent of loans?” he asked.  Mr Dijsselbloem agreed that not all the funds had been accessed  but “all this money, if used, would contribute to sovereign debt, and so it’s better if we use as little as possible,” he said.

Pervenche Beres (S&D, FR) suggested that Mr Dijsselbloem’s experience of the Greek bailout negotiations, which have seen divisions between European creditors and the International Monetary Fund, had fortified his support for a European monetary fund.  Mr Dijsselbloem expressed strong backing for the idea. “It would be desirable if European institutions had the expertise and the firepower to design and help implement programmes,” he said.

Continued tenure as Eurogroup head

Gerolf Annemans (ENF, BL) picked up on the subject of Mr Dijsselbloem continued tenure as Eurogroup head. “Have you lost your mandate?” he asked.  The minister replied that the Eurogroup had not yet taken a decision on his mandate, but he pointed that his current mandate ran until January 2018.  He added that it was up to the Eurogroup to decide whether the organisation was “in the right hands”.