Mr Juncker, former President of the European Commission, made the startling confession as he gave a speech to mark the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty. Discussing Maastricht, drawn up in 1991 between the 12 member states of what was then the European Community, Mr Juncker recalled an encounter with then President Clinton in 1995. Mr Clinton had asked Mr Juncker to “explain to me European things,” to which Mr Juncker began to “sing my economic and monetary opera”.
However, Mr Clinton said: “No, I am not interested in that, because this will never happen.
“Explain to me when Turkey will become a member of the European Union.”
Many were dubious about whether the single market would work at the time, including Mr Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who, when Mr Juncker restarted his “opera about the Economic and Monetary Union,” said: “Let us talk about the Internal Market, because this will never happen.”
As Mr Juncker pointed out, the monetary union did come into fruition.
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However, many claim that after the 2008 financial crash, and now, with the severe economic fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, cracks are appearing around the edges of the common monetary policy.
Many EU countries – especially those northern, fiscally conservative countries – enjoy the economic benefits of being in a single market but are reluctant to own their share of the “community” bargain in the “common market”.
When Greece had a spiralling deficit following the 2008 crash, it asked for financial rescue by the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Reluctant to offer a grant bailout, the EU and IMF gave packages that came with drastic austerity measures – the result, mass migration from Greece to other areas of Europe, youth unemployment rates of nearly 60 percent, and wages and pensions slashed.
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Only now, some 12 years later, has Greece’s economy begun to stabilise.
Its downfall worried many that the eurozone would collapse, something that has been furthered following the pandemic.
Earlier this year, EU leaders – many begrudgingly – passed a recovery package at the eleventh hour.
Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister, particularly opposed it and pressed for more loans than grants and for structural economic reforms in order not to lose out on money.
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He, along with Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, wanted to restrain the big-spending, integrationist ambitions of Emmanuel Macron and the poorer southern countries.
Ardent throughout, Mr Rutte and the others at the last minute agreed to the deal, despite having previously condemned currency reforms proposed by Mr Macron.
The deal manifested itself as a stimulus package involving €750billion (£677billion) in grants and loans, with a further €360billion (£322billion) in low-interest loans will be available to members of the bloc.
EU Summit chairman Charles Michel said it was a “pivotal moment” for Europe.
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Yet, many now fear that a widening gap between those southern European countries worst-hit by Covid-19 and northern Europe could open and slowly fissure, leading to economic tensions going forward.
At the time, however, Mr Juncker felt that Secretary Rubin’s later interest in the Economic and Monetary Union signalled that Europe was doing something right.
As he explained: “One year later, I was back in Washington – IMF meetings and things of that kind – and then I received a phone call from the Secretary of the Treasury, from Rubin. And he said: ‘We were starting a debate last year on the Economic and Monetary Union. Could you come back tonight to explain to me where you are?’.
“And suddenly I had the impression to be a very important person.
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“And I said: ‘No, I do not have time tonight’.
“And then he invited me for breakfast on a Sunday morning. And I said to myself: ‘If the American Finance Minister is inviting the Luxembourgish Finance Minister for breakfast on a Sunday morning, then they believe it’.”