When the Eurogroup chief and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that the southern eurozone countries wasted money on ‘alcohol and women’, there was incredulity among all his peers. Then he refused to apologise, which determined Gianni Pittella, the Italian MEP who leads Dijsselbloem’s own European Socialist group, to publicly call for the Dutchman’s resignation, saying he is “not fit to be president of the Eurogroup.”
Enfeebled he is: Dijsselbloem watched as his Labour party suffered a punishing defeat in national elections this month, but he has a mandate as president of the Eurogroup until January 2018.
He is chief of this Eurogroup – a terrifying responsibility, but who exactly is Dijsselbloem? Before him, that almost mystical job belonged to none other than Jean-Claude Juncker, the revered artisan of the Greek bail-out.
When the priestly function was bestowed upon the youngish looking (although born in 1966) Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, worried voices were heard in the previous Dutch parliament: will he be able to mix both? Run our finances AND the Eurozone at the same time?
Raised a Roman Catholic and nominally a Socialist, Jeroen Dijsselbloem went to a Catholic primary school, then to a Catholic secondary school. He studied agricultural economics at the provincial university of Wageningen, then went for a “stage” at the provincial university of Cork, in Ireland. From a provincial environment to another province.
But the provincial Dutch pride themselves on having invented capitalism (as Max Weber told us), so they have a reputation to maintain: seriousness, frugality, pragmatism and success in business. Forget the disastrous tulip mania, a classical case study of irrational capitalism avant la lettre. Also, with the boom of the colonies, the Dutch were among the first international pirates.
There were until now very few faux-pas in Dijsselbloem’s ascension. One such was the story of his CV. Upon becoming a minister and a member of the Board of Governors of the European Investment Bank, his official English-language CV mentioned a Master’s Degree from the Cork University (UCC), where he only went for that brief stage.
His biography on official internet sites of European institutions claimed he had received an MA in Business Economics from UCC, but no such degree exists, and his CV had to be amended to say he “did business economics research towards a master’s degree at the University College Cork.”
It had transpired that he only spent a couple of months at UCC conducting research in the “Food Business” field. The blunder was quickly corrected and attributed to a translation error.
Then he made a mistake with Cyprus. In March 2013, while a negotiator for the “Cyprus bail-in”, he made jaws drop by proposing to grab part of depositors’ money in order to rescue the banks.
He then made heads shake in despair by buoyantly adding that the Cyprus bail-in was a template for resolution of a bankruptcy, but two days later came back and said: no-no, Cyprus was no such template. The simple people could keep their money.
And he also is the one who whispered to the Greek Yanis Varoufakis: “You just killed the troika”, on the tone of someone just having lost a baby. Varoufakis only grinned, obviously satisfied.
As a revenge, one week later Dijsselbloem tried to make the shrewd Greek sign a paper that he substituted at the last moment for the one that Varoufakis had been shown earlier. Tsss-tss, naughty.
Reckless, Dijsselbloem? No, he simply hadn’t realized that his job is to be a mediator, and that the Eurozone chief has to be flexible, a good negotiator and someone who doesn’t (Euro)zone out, give signs of being a bad loser.
But he comes from that particular brand of Dutch Catholicism distinguished from Calvinism only by the (scarce) use of images. Scarce is the word here. All his apparent pedantry, obsession with irrevocable commitment and meticulous detail, all this has to be seen in the context of the Dutch Catholicism.
The Catholics in the Netherlands are as introverted and cautious as their Calvinist countrymen. They tend to be inflexible and disregard outside opinions. Finally, the much praised Dutch model of tolerance has long been said to be a mere form of indifference for the others.