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Juncker: "Greece is not Argentina," austerity model for avoiding default

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ATHENS, Greece - Greece's recent efforts to get its public finances into shape could have been the model for recently defaulted Argentina to follow.

That's the view of Jean-Claude Juncker, the man who is due to take over the European Union's executive branch in November.

After talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens, Juncker said the reforms carried about by the country over the past few years could have served as a model for Argentina, which last week defaulted on its debts for the second time since 2001.

"Greece could have been a good example for Argentina to avoid the problems it was not able to avoid," Juncker said. "So Greece is not Argentina."

In his first trip abroad since being elected to head the European Commission, Juncker praised Greek efforts to improve public finances, and insisted that he played a key role in keeping the country in the euro currency zone.

"I really fought like a lion, I would say," Juncker said. "There was a great battle to counter those who wanted to remove Greece from the euro."

Greece is poised to soon emerge from its savage six-year recession. Four years ago it nearly went bankrupt and required billions in rescue loans from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.

Under its bailout agreements, Greece had to impose punishing austerity measures. The spending cuts, tax rises and economic reforms have helped the threat of an exit from the euro recede.

Juncker, who headed the Eurogroup of finance ministers for the large bulk of the European debt crisis, did not name those he claimed were intent on Greece leaving the euro.

Juncker, who succeeds, Jose Manuel Barroso on Nov. 1, declined to comment on options being considered by eurozone countries to make Greece's national debt sustainable and refused to give details on his choices for the next European Commission.

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Follow Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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