Greece is in the grip of a debt crisis
In a jaw-dropping interview which is bound to infuriate Greek voters European Central Bank (ECB) board member Benoit Coeuré effectively washed Brussels’ hands of the country’s desperate situation.
He insisted that Greece’s economic problems are “not related to its euro membership” and defended the EU’s decision to admit the country into the single currency which has been heavily criticised.
Frenchman Mr Coeuré also contentiously claimed that the euro has brought the greatest benefit for low income families, a statement which may stick in the throat of southern Europe’s tens of millions of young unemployed.
Political opponents of the single currency have blamed it for almost a decade of economic stagnation in Europe, with candidates in Italy, France and the Netherlands threatening to withdrawn their countries from the eurozone.
ECB board member Benoit Coeuré insisted the euro is not to blame
There has been growing anger against the EU in Greece
But in an interview with Le Parisien Mr Coeuré insisted: “The euro is clearly a success. It has created a strong bond between European citizens. We can only influence world affairs if we are united.
“The single currency allows medium-sized countries like France to speak as an equal to the United States or China. The euro does not constitute a loss of sovereignty, it is a lever of sovereignty.”
Greece is once more on the brink of quitting the euro due to its extraordinary debt crisis, with the government in Athens being urged to reject demands for further spending cuts in return for more bailout cash.
Greece's problems are not related to its euro membership
ECB board member Benoit Coeuré
But the ECB banker said: “I don’t think that Greece should not have been included in the euro.
“Its problems are not related to its euro membership but administrative shortcomings, very weak social protection, problematic tax collection and a highly specialised economy.
“Greece needs to overhaul its administrative and political structures to be able to prosper in the euro.
“The Greeks are still facing this predicament, but they have to be commended for the major reforms that they have undertaken.”
Support for the euro has unsurprisingly plunged in Greece in recent years but still stands about 50 per cent, according to the most recent figures published by Eurobarometer.
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It has also plummeted in Italy and France – in the former more voters now think the single currency is a negative influence than a positive one – but has risen in Holland despite the popularity of eurosceptic Geert Wilders.
Support for the euro has also fallen in Spain and Portugal – although it remains about 50 per cent in both countries – in light of sky-high youth unemployment.
But Mr Coeuré defended the currency, insisting: “The unemployment rate has nothing to do with the euro, it is linked to the success or failure of employment policies.”
He added: “I believe that the euro has even had greater benefits for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. The single currency has contained inflation, which is a tax on the poor.”