Did Portugal's PM “beg” for help?
It seems that someone in either the Portuguese Prime Minister's office in Lisbon or the German Chancellor's office in Berlin has been telling whoppers.
Politicians and those around them are generally not held in high esteem when it comes to straightforward honesty, but the story of a reported telephone conversation last week between José Sócrates and Angela Merkel suggests blatant lying rather than political obfuscation. Or could it be that one of Britain's most respected newspapers, the Guardian, has got it all wrong?
The Guardian reported that Sócrates last week phoned Merkel and “begged for help”. Sócrates wanted to know what he should do about Portugal's financial crisis. Quoting “witnesses”, the Guardian said Sócrates sounded desperate and eager to please.
The conversation took place amid the backdrop of Portugal being widely tipped to be the third eurozone country after Greece and Ireland to need a German-led bailout.
Sócrates promised to do anything Merkel wanted, with one big exception. He insisted that Portugal did not want, or need, a eurozone bailout, with the extremely tight strings that would entail.
According to accounts circulating in Berlin, Merkel left Sócrates to wait on the line while she sought the views of two high-powered visitors - Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, and Giulio Tremonti, the highly regarded Italian foreign minister.
The IMF chief was dismissive. The Portuguese plea was pointless, he said, because Sócrates would not follow any advice he was given. So Merkel gave Sócrates a "cynical" brush-off that the Guardian interpreted as symptomatic of rising tensions within the EU.
Fascinating stuff – except that the story was totally false according to the Portuguese Prime Minister's office. A spokeswoman for Sócrates, Mafalda Costa Pereira, was adamant that the phone conversation did not take place. “It is not true,” she said. A source told the Portuguese newspaper Expresso that the last time Sócrates spoke with Angela Merkel was at the last European Council meeting.
So who's fibbing? We'll let you know in the unlikely event of someone owning up.