EU negotiators were “so close” to a deal with Greece that the two sides were haggling over just €60 million when Greek officials suddenly walked away, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told political allies Wednesday.
Speaking to members of the center-right European People’s Party group in a closed-door meeting at the European Parliament, Juncker kept up the harsh criticism of Greek leaders he has voiced in recent days, according to multiple sources who attended.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis refused to make a deal, according to Juncker, who claimed that Varoufakis pulled his negotiators out of the room when they were too close to an agreement.
“[Juncker] said we were ready to front-load EU funds at the disposal of Greece for the future and the Greek government didn’t take the offer, which convinced them that [the Greeks] weren’t interested in an agreement and it was ideological,” an MEP who was in the room told POLITICO after the meeting.
“He said, ‘We were so close, in fact, we were so close that it was just €60 million that we were arguing over.”
Three sources in the room described the €60 million figure but said Juncker did not go into detail about it.
Another EU source said Juncker was referring to suggestions by Greek negotiators that they would be willing to make cuts in defense spending and also to exclude some islands from a discounted VAT rate. But, the source added, after Tsipras’ speech Wednesday afternoon and the decision by Eurogroup ministers to hold off further talks until after the referendum, these proposals were never formally submitted.
The mood was tense while Juncker vented his frustrations about working with Tsipras and Varoufakis, who he claimed were constantly changing the terms of the negotiation and were unwilling to make a deal no matter how much EU negotiators bent.
The Commission president told reporters after the meeting only that the Greeks lacked “the will to close” a deal. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas would not comment on the meeting but noted that Juncker has said “We were indeed very close to a deal.”
“[Juncker] was blaming Tspiras for what happened,” said a Parliament source who attended the Wednesday meeting. “He said if we don’t have an agreement it’s clearly for ideological reasons because the differences weren’t big.”
According to the source, Juncker also said a No vote in Sunday’s referendum “means Greece leaves the euro.”
The sources said that Juncker also questioned the capacity of the Greek administration to organize an EU referendum in just a few days — adding that he has a plan for Monday depending on how the Greeks vote, but did not elaborate.
After the meeting, EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber told members that he believed “Tsipras and the Greek government didn’t even want to find a solution for ideological reasons,” according to EPP spokesperson Christian Huegel.
This article was updated to include a comment made Thursday by the European Commission spokesman.
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