Dutch minister plays bad cop in Greek soap

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Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager did a good job in his role as bad cop during negotiations in Brussels for the lastest EU bailout package for Greece.

For a few hours in Brussels on Monday, everyone was talking about Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager. EU Finance Ministers were in town to finalize a new bailout package for Greece, and the mood seemed positive - until late in the afternoon, Mr de Jager spoke to the press.

"Each side has to assess whether Greece has done enough. That was not so last week. That was also not so the week before."

Suddenly the deal which had been in the works since last summer appeared to be in jeopardy. But after 14 hours of negotiating, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the EU finance ministers, along with the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, had made a deal with the Greek government.

The Deal
And sure enough, Jan Kees de Jager’s concerns had been met. Greece will go into a form of receivership, with permanent supervision from the so-called troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) over all government expenditures. Greece must pass another package of reforms within the next two weeks in order to qualify for this latest bailout, and the 130 billion Euros will be deposited in an escrow account rather than be transferred straight to the government. Finally, the private sector was persuaded to ‘voluntarily’ accept far greater losses than initially was the case.

Bad cop troika
Mr De Jager played the role of the bad cop this week, even more so than in previous Greek bailout negotiations. The Netherlands by itself, of course, could not fulfill the role of bad cop - Greece is not too concerned with what the Netherlands thinks. But De Jager speaks for a troika of his own, including Finland and Germany. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is the real force behind the hard-line negotiating position. In the Greek press he is referred to as Mr No, and even depicted in a Nazi uniform.

Greek president Karolos Papoulias lashed out at the three hardliners last week: “Who is Mr Schäuble to insult Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finnish?”

In response, Mr De Jager says "It’s not the Netherlands or Germany which led Greece into its current difficulties. It’s Greece itself, and that’s where the solution has to come from."

Hardline to the end
Even now that an agreement has been reached, Mr De Jager persists in his role as hardliner. He is more skeptical than one would expect about the bailout package he just agreed to. Far from "selling the package" to his Dutch audience, he warns that this is still only a temporary solution, good to solve Greece’s financial needs until 2014. And even that is contingent, reminds De Jager, on the Greek government quickly passing more far-reaching reforms, and on parliaments in the three hard-line countries ratifying the agreement.

The Dutch parliament is likely to approve the agreement, thanks to support from pro-EU opposition parties, but only after a fierce debate. Mr De Jager’s tough stance is appreciated back home. He remains a popular figure, even as he performs the unpopular task of promising more Dutch taxpayer money to a Greek bailout.

Mr De Jager did have to pay a price in Brussels. After a long night of negotiations, when the Dutch finance minister returned to his hotel for a few hours of sleep, he found himself locked out. Apparently, his card key had been blocked after he had been out of his room so long.

(/rk)