(AFP) – European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker called Saturday on the European Union to recognise the gravity of the situation in Greece — both for the country’s impoverished citizens and for the wider risks to the eurozone.
«We must be sure that the situation does not continue to deteriorate in Greece. What worries me is that not everyone in the European Union has understood how serious the situation in Greece is,» Juncker told German paper Die Welt in an interview published Saturday.
He did not specify whom his comments were aimed at, but they appeared two days after the European Central Bank took a tough stance on extending more financial help to Greece.
Juncker noted in his comments that a quarter of Greeks are not covered by social security, unemployment is the highest in the eurozone and the country sees regular protests.
Although Greece’s debt problems are far from being resolved, Juncker repeated previous assertions that Athens should not leave the eurozone, noting this would amount to an «irreparable loss of reputation» for the single currency.
However, the European Commission president also advised Greece to stick to reforms agreed upon with its creditors.
«If the government wants to spend more money, it must compensate with savings or supplemental income,» he added.
After July, when Greek bonds held by the European Central Bank come due, there needs to be «reflecting about the ways international creditors must behave toward countries that find themselves in a critical economic situation,» Juncker said.
«It is not acceptable that a prime minister must negotiate reforms with civil servants. One is an elected official, the others are not,» he added.
Juncker did not directly mention the meeting of eurozone finance ministers set for Monday in Brussels nor the date of his next meeting with Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras.
Tsipras called for the meeting just after a speech Thursday from ECB President Mario Draghi, which stated that all supplemental help to Greece would be conditional on the rapid completion of reforms promised by Athens.
The ECB «is still holding the rope which we have around our necks,» said Tsipras, according to excerpts of an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel.
The remark came after Athens received no help from the Frankfurt-based institution to address a cash squeeze caused by the non-delivery of promised loans.
Athens is scrambling to find cash to address a daunting repayment schedule, with over six billion euros ($6.8 billion) falling due this month.