Belfast Telegraph

Greek minister denies 'giving middle finger' to Germans

By Adam Withnall

Greece's outspoken finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has been met with ridicule after he claimed that a video of him suggesting his country should "stick the finger to Germany" was a fake.

Footage from a book promotion in May 2013 showed the then-professor at the University of Texas advocating Greece defaulting on its debts "so we can go back to the drachma".

During the hour-long conference outlining his "provocative" view of global economics, Mr Varoufakis suggested Greece should follow the Argentinian example of refusing to pay back international lenders.

And in the video he appears to put up his middle finger for the camera and say: "My proposal was that Greece should simply announce it was defaulting within the euro in 2010 and stick the finger to Germany and say, well you can solve this problem yourself."

Mr Varoufakis has since appeared on German TV to answer for his apparently offensive actions - and denied not only that he swore on that occasion, but that he had ever "stuck the finger" to anyone in his life.

He told presenter Gunther Jauch: "That video was doctored. I've never given the finger."

While he accepted that the clip shown was from a real conference he attended in Zagreb, Croatia, he said: "… But the finger is doctored. I assure you I can prove it beyond reasonable doubt. It never happened.

"You can look at all my writings. In 2013 I published an article in which I said that what Europe needs is economic hegemony. Do you think this is consistent with what you showed?"

In the video, published on a YouTube channel which hosts coverage of workshops, talks and seminars around the world and promoted on the Zagreb festival's own Twitter page, Mr Varoufakis is shown elaborating on what would happen if Greece defaulted.

He said: "I think that from an internationalist and a Greek and a European perspective that the most effective radical policy would be for a Greek Prime Minister - or a Greek minister of finance - to rise up in the Eurogroup and say 'Folks, we are defaulting'.

"But why step out [of the euro]? Make them face the contradictions of the eurozone themselves - because the moment that a Greek Prime Minister declares default within the eurozone all hell will break loose. And either they will have to introduce shock absorbers or the euro will die anyway - and then we can go to the drachma."

The video came to prominence after a clip was posted online by Twitter user Alessandro Del Prete, who denied that it was fake.

And fellow Twitter users seemed to agree that the chances of the "stick the finger" section of the video being faked appeared unlikely.

What has quickly been dubbed "#fingergate" online comes as part of an ongoing deterioration of German-Greek relations.

At the end of last week, Athens accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of insulting Mr Varoufakis with a "condescending, pejorative manner" at the negotiating table in Brussels.

Mr Varoufakis, who famously walked out of an interview with American broadcaster CNBC after he was asked if he was a "liability" to his government, is leading efforts to renegotiate his country's huge bailout programme.

Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Constantinos Koutras said an official complaint was made last Tuesday, adding: "As a minister of a country that is our friend and our ally, he [Schaeuble] cannot personally insult a colleague."

Mr Schaeuble has told reporters the accusations he was insulting towards his Greek counterpart were "nonsense".

But Mr Varoufakis himself told Greek TV: "Mr Schaeuble has told me I have lost the trust of the German government.

"I have told him that I never had it. I have the trust of the Greek people."

Belfast Telegraph