Eurogroup Head Offends with ‘Macho’ Slight

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Eurogroup leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem has refused to apologize for comments made in an interview that some are calling racist, xenophobic and sexist. Source: Reuters

Eurogroup leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem launched a storm of indignation with a sexist remark in southern European countries. Berlin, however, has had little to say on the topic so far.

Mr. Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup and Dutch finance minister, launched a storm of indignation with recent comments about struggling European countries. Mr. Dijsselbloem told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that northern European countries had shown solidarity with the crisis countries.

“As a social democrat, I consider solidarity to be extremely important. But whoever demands it also has to hold up their end of the bargain. I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and then ask for your support,” he told the German daily. “This principle applies on a personal, local, national and also on a European level.”

“The euro zone is about responsibility, solidarity, but also respect. There’s no room for stereotypes.”

Manfred Weber, Chair of the European People's Party, European Parliament

Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi has since called for the resignation of Mr. Dijsselbloem. “People like Dijsselbloem (…) do not deserve the role they occupy,” he wrote on Wednesday on Facebook. The sooner he left, the better, he added. Mr. Renzi called the remark by the 50-year-old Eurogroup head “dumb,” while Spanish politicians have described the statement as “racist and macho.”

The president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, Italian Gianni Pittella, called the statements “shameful.”

“I am really wondering whether a person with this conviction is still considered capable of acting as the Eurogroup chief,” he said.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa also called for Mr. Dijsselbloem to resign from the Eurogroup presidency and said the comments were “racist, xenophobic and sexist.” As a joint project, Europe will only be credible once Mr. Dijsselbloem resigns, Mr. Costa said.

Manfred Weber, chair of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter that, “the euro zone is about responsibility, solidarity, but also respect. There’s no room for stereotypes.”

Mr. Dijsselbloem dismissed the outrage in southern E.U. countries about his comments. He was speaking in a general sense about solidarity in the euro zone and was not criticizing specific countries, said a spokesman for the Dutch finance minister on Wednesday in The Hague. Mr. Dijsselbloem rejected demands for an apology in the European parliament.

In Berlin, the German government declined to comment on the specifics of Mr. Dijsselbloem’s statement.  Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a center-right Christian Democrat, valued Mr. Dijsselbloem’s work as the head of the Eurogroup, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Mr. Dijsselbloem could soon lose his position as finance minister in his own country after the poor performance of his Social Democrats in the Dutch parliamentary elections. He’s made it clear that he wanted to remain the head of the Eurogroup as planned until January, 2018. Mr. Schäuble and other ministers have expressly praised Mr. Dijsselbloem, but left open the question of how long he would remain in the presidency.

It’s not the first time Mr. Dijsselbloem has put his foot in his mouth during an interview, angering other Europeans. At the beginning of 2014, he described the current E.U. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a heavy smoker and drinker on Dutch television. In Greece, he has been accused of having an uncompromising attitude toward the highly indebted country.


Stuart Tiffen is an editor with Handelsblatt Global.

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