ATHENS -- The coronavirus pandemic was a great shock and the European Union's initial reaction may not have been well coordinated, former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Delphi Economic Forum on Friday, but it eventually adopted a good stance.
In a fireside chat with Kathimerini executive editor Alexis Papahelas, Juncker was reported by the organizers as saying that Greece's recovery plan was among the best of the proposals submitted to the Commission by fellow EU member countries and would upgrade the Greek economic model.
Juncker also spoke of his meeting with then-US President Donald Trump and his effort to explain to the American leader the role a strong EU-US relationship plays for global stability. Trump's different handling defense issues created obstacles to the EU-NATO relationship, which improved after the American president's term ended, the former Commission chair said.
Speaking of EU-China relations, Juncker said the attempt to approach China was too hurried, as the Asian country "is a competitor and enemy" and the relationship "requires caution and we must not be naive."
As for his personal relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he noted they were always somewhat difficult but were facilitated by the fact that Putin spoke German very well. The EU has greatly differing views, "but there is no security without Russia," he noted, and there must be other ways of approaching it as a neighbor, including through culture and to a certain degree through trade.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the other hand, had better relations with the EU but gradually distanced himself, partly also because of the Cyprus issue.
Juncker said that he always supported Greece, both on the Cyprus issue and during the critical time when voices in the German parliament called for expelling it from the EU. "It was to the entire EU's benefit that Greece remain in the Eurozone," he recalled saying at the time.
Commenting on the retirement of current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leadership required in a successor, Juncker responded that he "never liked the idea of the EU being led by a leader - neither Germany nor France have an exclusive right to lead the EU." As he added, the EU "is not a monopoly: the EU is a complex project that needs and relies on medium and small-sized member-states."
"Do not worry about Germany, trust your friends in Europe," Juncker said, wrapping up his statements.
The international conference of May 10-15 is under the aegis of President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and Athens-Macedonian News Agency is a communications sponsor (see www.amna.gr/delphi-VI).