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Europe’s Leadership Downgrades Its Own Credibility

Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker
Georges Gobet | AFP | Getty Images
Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker

Do you trust the European finance ministers?

You probably shouldn’t trust them.

On Friday, after the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Euro zone leaders were secretly meeting to discuss a Greek demand to exit the European monetary group, a spokesman for Europe’s top finance ministers denied any meeting was taking place.

This was a lie. The top finance ministers were holding a secret meeting. The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Brussels blog confronted Guy Schuller, the man who issued the denials, about this clash between what was said and what happened. Schuller is the spokesman for Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker—the man who just happens to be the head of the Eurogroup council of finance ministers.

“I was told to say there was no meeting,” said Schuller.

Schuller explains that he had “very good reason to lie.”

What was the reason?

“We had Wall Street open at that point,” he said.

In other words, the official policy of the Euro zone leaders is to lie to deceive Wall Street and investors in American markets.

Fascinatingly, Schuller went on to justify his lying by explaining that no one has any confidence in official pronouncements from Euro-zone leaders already. Why tell the truth, if no one will believe you anyway?

Note to Schuller: you’ve got this backward. If you have a reputation for dissembling, that frees you from the burdens that come with telling the truth. You can be honest with impunity.

There’s an ancient story that illustrates this point nicely. At some point in a medieval village, the jewels of the local despot were stolen. The town guardsman immediately closed the gates and began searching for the thief. After a little while later, the town jester—known for telling outrageous and humorous lies—approached the gate.

“The gate is closed,” the guards told him.

“That’s a shame,” said the jester. “You see, I’ve stolen the crown jewels and I need to get out of town before I’m caught.”

The guards had a good laugh and let the jester pass.

The jewels were never found.

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