Spain chokes in the eurozone

Luxembourg Prime Minister and Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker pretends to strangle Spain Finance Minister Luis De Guindos during a meeting in Brussels on March 12, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Georges Gobet

By Georges Gobet 

I shot these images during a photocall ahead of the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels on March 12, 2012. In these sessions, photographers are allowed to come into the debating chamber and shoot as many shots as they please of ministers, provided we keep an agreed distance. After a while, the head of the meeting rings a bell, security officials chase us out of the room and ministers get down to business.

On that day, Luxembourg Prime Minister and Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker (on the right) was engaged in a very lively conversation with the Spain’s finance minister, Luis de Guindos. 

At one point, Juncker put his hands round de Guindos’s neck and, while laughing, pretended to strangle him. I couldn’t hear what was said, I was too far away. 

For photographers, Jucker is fabulous. He loves being silly and he knows how to create a good photo. He’s just about the only one. His strangle gesture was definitely done for our benefit. The European Union is demanding drastic cuts in Spain, where many feel choked by the ongoing debt crisis. 

As for de Guindos, he’s nice, but a little less original than his predecessor Elena Salgado. She would cover her mouth with a hand when she was speaking to colleagues at meetings, afraid a photographer would read her lips.

Spain former finance minister Elena Salagado whispers to French former finance minister Christine Lagarde during a meeting in Brussels in February 2010.
AFP PHOTO/Georges Gobet

When I took this image, photographers were allowed into the room first, then the politicians would arrive. But this has been changed in recent months and now the opposite is true: the ministers are already seated when we are allowed in.

It’s a shame, because we not only get less time, but the photos lose a lot of their spontaneity. Before, the ministers would come into the room halfway through an argument or conversation they were having outside. Often, they wore heavy frowns or would avoid eye contact. This made for great pictures, but now we can only photograph them sitting down. It’s more rigid and institutional. 

Some ministers would prefer it if we didn’t take any pictures at all. They don’t like it when we shoot them talking to each other. That’s the case with Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble, who wants outside photographers to be barred and for us to download (for free!) images captured by the European Council’s own shooters. 

Luxembourg Prime Minister and Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker arrives at a European summit in Brussels on June 29, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Georges Gobet