EC President agrees: “We sinned against the dignity” of bailout countries like Portugal

As Greek-EU negotiations appear to have turned a promising corner, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken out against the “lack of democratic legitimacy” of the troika which he says has “acted against the dignity” of countries that requested bailouts.

“We sinned against the dignity of the people, especially in Greece, in Portugal and also in Ireland,” he said last night (Wednesday) at a meeting of the commission’s executive and social committee.

“I was president of the Eurogroup, and I appear stupid in saying this,” he added. “But it is time we learnt lessons from history and did not repeat mistakes.”

The frank admission of responsibility for years of social hardship – particularly in southern European countries – spared no one.

Público stresses that Juncker pointed the finger squarely at his predecessor, Portugal’s former PSD prime minister Durão Barroso, claiming the latter had “blindly” followed the directives of the troika “without even talking about Greece” and the likely repercussions of so many heavy-handed bailout conditions.

“The troika is less than democratic,” he added, and it is important to review the whole structure under which it operates.

One of the recurrent complaints has been that the troika is headed by ‘grey-men-in-suits’ – high-level functionaries instead of politicians with the “authority of the Eurogroup”, he said.

“I am not criticising the high-functionaries. But they should not be put in place of a prime-minister or finance minister.”

It was not the first time Juncker has revealed the need to make the troika “more democratic”, nor is it not the first ‘in-house’ apology, either.

Christine Lagarde, director-general of the IMF, said two years ago that the fund had “made mistakes” with Greece and Portugal and should have given both “more time” to complete their adjustment programmes, which she said demanded “too much budgetary consolidation, too fast”.

But as Juncker stresses the damage “against the dignity of the people”, Greece continues to insist on repairing it, and needing breathing space in which to do so.

Reports this morning are that Greece’s request for a six-month “funding umbrella” – quite separate from any kind of bailout extension – is to be considered by EU leaders at a meeting in Brussels on Friday afternoon.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]