EnetEnglish.gr, 09:47 Friday 20 September 2013
Venizelos denies telling Asmussen to 'reorganise the figures'
German magazine claims Pasok leader wanted budget gap to appear smaller or disappear altogether
Venizelos denies article in respected German weekly Die Zeit claiming that he asked senior ECB official Joerg Asmussen whether figures on the impending budget gap could be 'reorganised'
Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos has denied as "totally inaccurate" the claim that he raised the possibility of altering figures regarding the government’s anticipated budget gap for 2015-16 in order for them appear smaller or vanish altogether in a meeting last month with a senior European Central Bank figure.
The claim was made in a six-page portrait of Joerg Asmussen, one of the ECB's six executive board members, contained in this week’s issue of Zeit Magazin, a features magazine that is published with the respected weekly Die Zeit.
Asmussen met with Venizelos during a one-day trip to Athens on August 22. The article says that the ECB official almost fled in shock from Venizelos' office after the meeting, during which the two men discussed the budget gap.
"The deputy prime minister asked him whether the figures could be changed so that the gap would become smaller or even disappear," the article claims, before printing three words in English that presumably Venizelos uttered: "Reorganise the figures."
According to Jana Simon, a Zeit journalist who accompanied Asmussen to Athens, the ECB banker was not impressed at Venizelos' request.
In a report in July, the European Commission estimated the budget or fiscal gap at 2% of GDP over 2015-2016, or about €4bn.
In a statement issued at 2.15pm on Friday, Venizelos described the claims made in Die Zeit as "totally inaccurate".
"The article in the newspaper Die Zeit that – in the context of a long profile on Mr Asmussen – refers to the supposed content of our conversation during our recent meeting in Athens, on 22 August 2013, at the foreign ministry, is totally inaccurate.
"I await the official denial of the article by Mr Asmussen himself and the European Central Bank, and I hope I won’t need to come back to this issue,” he said.
Shortly after that statement, William Lelieveldt, an ECB spokesman, told the semi-official Athens News Agency that the "description" of the meeting in the Zeit article was "not correct".
However, Simon, the Zeit journalist, has told EnetEnglish in an email that she stands by what she wrote about the meeting.
"Of course it took place just as we have described it," said Simon, who wrote the piece with Mark Schieritz.
Translation of the relevant paragraph from the article in Zeit Magazin:
During his Athens trip, Asmussen also meets with the deputy prime minister [Evangelos Venizelos]. They discuss the looming Greek budget gap. After their meeting, Asmussen almost flees from his office. He's stunned. The deputy prime minister asked him whether the figures could be changed so that the gap would become smaller or even disappear. Reorganise the figures. For Asmussen, these words characterise the 'old Greece'. And for outdated, inefficient systems for which he fundamentally has no understanding.