BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker urged Greeks on Monday to back a cash-for-reform package rejected by their government, saying a ‘no’ vote in Sunday’s referendum would mean Greece was turning its back on the European Union.
Following a breakdown of talks between Athens and its creditors, Juncker delivered a withering criticism of the Greek government which called the referendum and which advised Greeks to vote against creditor proposals.
“The whole planet would consider a Greek ‘no’ to the question posed... as meaning that Greece wants to distance itself from the euro zone and from Europe.” he told a news conference.
“I will say to the Greeks who I love deeply: you mustn’t commit suicide because you are afraid of death.... You must vote yes, independently of the question asked.”
Juncker said he still believed a Greek exit from the euro zone was not an option, but cautioned that he alone could not necessarily protect Athens from other leaders who may disagree.
At a rare emergency news conference at the Brussels headquarters of his European Commission, Juncker ran through what he said was a fair offer made to Greece, which was socially fairer than the government had sought - effectively appealing over the head of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
“Playing off one democracy against 18 others is not an attitude which is fitting for the great Greek nation,” Juncker said.
The Commission president said he felt deeply distressed and betrayed, believing until late on Friday that both sides were pushing towards a deal.
“Our sole concern has been to make a fair and balanced deal. This is certainly a demanding and comprehensive package, but it is a fair one... This is not a stupid austerity package,” he said.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Adrian Croft and Philip Blenkinsop; @macdonaldrtr; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and John Stonestreet