Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem has come under fire over comments seen as accusing financially embattled southern European Union nations of having wasted their aid money on women and alcohol.
“As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity,” Dijsselbloem said. “But you also have obligations. You cannot spend all the money on spirits and women and then ask for help.”
Although the Dutch Finance Minister didn’t mention any EU countries specifically, his comments to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggested that countries in financial crisis should observe the deficit targets established by the European Commission to prove their solidarity with other EU member nations.
As the president of the Eurogroup, the informal council of eurozone finance ministers, Dijsselbloem is in charge of managing the bloc’s finance ministers including bailouts to countries like Greece.
But following his comments this week, Dijsselbloem is facing calls to resign.
Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa called his comment “racist, xenophobic and sexist”. He added Europe would only become credible once Dijsselbloem left his Eurogroup post.
“Europe will only be credible as a common project on the day when Mr. Dijsselbloem stops being head of the Eurogroup and apologises clearly to all the countries and peoples that were profoundly offended by his remarks,” Costa said.
Costa’s call adds pressure on Dijsselbloem who has faced a chorus of outrage from other EU officials and MEPs following his remarks and his refusal – so far – to apologise.
Socialist MEP leader Gianni Pittella said Dijsselbloem’s comments were “shameful” and “shocking” and accused him of discrimination.
“Dijsselbloem went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe,” Pittella said in a statement. “I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup.”
J_Dijsselbloem</a> said that <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/eurozone?src=hash">#eurozone</a> countries wasted money on ‘alcohol & women’. Our <a href="https://twitter.com/GreensEP">GreensEP-colleague
ernesturtasun</a> demands an apology! <a href="https://t.co/1mOHEqjSAi">pic.twitter.com/1mOHEqjSAi</a></p>— Europagruppe GRÜNE (Gruene_Europa) March 21, 2017
During a European Parliament meeting Ernest Urtasun, an MEP from Catalonia, asked Dijsselbloem if he would apologise for his comment.
He replied: “No, certainly not. I know my statement, it came from this mouth.”
Dijsselbloem has sparked the ire of the Portuguese government who also called for his resignation in a statement.
“The Eurogroup president is not in a position to remain at the head of the Eurogroup,” said Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva.
Silva called Dijsselbloem’s comment “absolutely unacceptable”.
“This idea of people who are spending money on wine and women is a form of expression that is certainly not typical of a Minister of Finance of a European government, much less the president of the Eurogroup.”
Dijsselbloem has attempted to assuage the outcry saying his comments referred to all EU countries – those providing financial support as well as those receiving it.
“Don’t be offended,” he said. “It is not about one country, but about all our countries. The Netherlands also failed a number of years ago to comply with what was agreed. I don’t see a conflict between regions of the eurogroup.”
Dijsselbloem has been president of the Eurogroup since January 2013. A presidential term lasts two and half years. In 2015 he was re-elected and is said to be running again for the position.
But in parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, Dijsselbloem’s Labour Party suffered large loses which cast doubts on whether Dijsselbloem will remain as the Dutch Finance Minister.
The Dutch Labour Party retained just nine seats from the 38 it held previously, and Dijsselbloem may have to step down as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte forms a new government.
“So, let’s be realistic,” Dijsselbloem said. “My term as minister of finance will most likely come to an end. I don’t know when that is. I am now caretaker minister of finance. The coalition talks in the Netherlands may take quite a while, and during that period I will for sure continue as chair of the Eurogroup.”
Eurogroup rules are unclear if a president can be held by someone who is not a government or financial minister.
Dijsselbloem’s term is scheduled to end in January 2018.