Eurozone chief urged to quit for 'liquor and women' quip

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2017 1:06 PM
Eurozone chief urged to quit for 'liquor and women' quip

BRUSSELS (AP) — Portugal led calls on Wednesday for the eurozone's top official to resign for what many saw as derogatory comments about debt-ridden southern nations spending foolishly and relying on their northern partners to bail them out.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonia Costa said he was outraged by comments earlier this week from Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs discussions of his peers in the 19-country eurozone.

"I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and then ask for your support," Dijsselbloem said in reference to European countries that needed bailouts.

The comments, made in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, drew outrage in southern European nations and also from Dijsselbloem's own socialist allies.

"We regard it as absolutely unacceptable for him to stay in his post," Portugal's Costa said Wednesday. "Mr. Dijsselbloem has insulted us. Mr. Dijsselbloem has shown himself to be sexist, racist, xenophobic and an embarrassment for Europe, and because of that he cannot hold any EU post."

And MEP Kathleen Van Brempt said top officials from the EU's S&D group were "unanimous" and that he'd "better withdraw as chairman of the eurogroup."

She added that the "denigrating tone reminds us of the way that people, regions or countries in trouble are increasingly addressed."

The embarrassing spat comes just as Rome prepares to host an EU leaders' summit marking 60 years since the founding of the forerunner of the European Union.

Dijsselbloem's comments also revived a sense of a north-south divide in Europe. Supposedly thrifty northern Europeans have shouldered most of the cost of bailing out eurozone governments, mostly in the south: Greece, Portugal and Cyprus among them. Spain got loans for its banks but also had to impose painful austerity to meet EU deficit limits.

The austerity demanded has bruised their economies, most notably Greece's, which has endured a recession that saw the country lose a quarter of its national output.

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Dijsselbloem adopted "stereotypes that widen the gap between north and south and in reality pave the way, one would say, for extremist views."

Tzanakopoulos added that "at a time when Europe is in an intense political quest for its next political steps, statements that expand the gap between north and south are not helpful at all."

Dijsselbloem refused to apologize for his statement late Tuesday and insisted that financial solidarity comes with obligations, including budgetary rigor that sometimes was found wanting.

His failure to apologize irked Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, who told reporters the remarks were "unfortunate in every way," and that he'd been counting on an apology.

The EU's antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager of Denmark, also made clear she opposed Dijsselbloem's remark. "I would not have said it, and I think it's wrong," she said.

Germany was an exception to the rule, with the finance ministry saying minister Wolfgang Schaeuble "greatly values" Dijsselbloem's work as head of the eurogroup.

Dijsselbloem was in office when Greece almost fell out of the eurozone in the summer of 2015 because of its high debts and difficulties in committing to financial and economic reforms.

Dijsselbloem already faces questions about whether he can hold on to his post after his Labor Party had a disastrous showing in last week's Dutch elections.

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Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Frances D'Emilio in Rome and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.