March 31, 2012
A euro-area finance ministers’ meeting to bolster Europe’s crisis-fighting efforts was thrown into confusion as a spat between Luxembourg and Austria erupted over who got to brief journalists first on the outcome.
Jean-Claude Juncker, 57, who chairs the meetings, abruptly cancelled a press conference in Copenhagen today after Austria’s Maria Fekter stole the Luxembourg prime minister’s thunder and signalled to reporters that the group had limited new bailout lending to 500 billion euros ($650 billion).
“There was no point in having a press conference, because the Austrian finance minister announced it,” Juncker told reporters as he hustled into an elevator after the meeting. “I’m against babbling, so I wanted to make a point today,” he said in an interview later in the day.
Fekter, 56, apologized. The timing of her appearance “wasn’t optimal,” ministry spokesman Gregor Schuetze said. Asked after today’s meeting if the spat had been patched up, Fekter said: “Yes.”
Ministers agreed to cap fresh rescue lending after a Germany-led coalition opposed a further expansion of the anti- crisis firewall. Adding the 300 billion euros already committed to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, ministers put the overall size of the firewall at 800 billion euros. In a statement, they ruled out using the 240 billion euros left in the temporary rescue fund to go beyond that.
“This sum is important considering the involvement of the International Monetary Fund as well as the discussions at the G- 20,” Fekter said. “Joint participation depends on what Europe does - and Europe has now fixed this sum clearly.”
About an hour later, reporters who had gathered in the main press auditorium to await Juncker watched as staff removed his name from the podium. The briefing was then called off.
“Juncker was a little upset,” Fekter’s spokesman Schuetze said.