French President Francois Hollande pledged during a two day official visit in Athens to support Greece.
Athens.- ANA-MPE, AFP
French President Francois Hollande pledged Friday to help Greece implement tough bailout reforms and tackle a major influx of migrants landing on its shores.
The socialist French president is one of the few European leaders to have unabashedly thrown his support behind young leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during months of fraught talks with its EU and IMF creditor earlier this year.
“France must continue to stand by Greece,” Hollande said after signing a strategic partnership with Tsipras offering French economic management expertise, especially to tackle tax evasion.
On his first visit to Athens since 2013, Hollande praised Greece’s determination to stay the course of economic reform, which had put an end to talk of a ‘Grexit’ — a Greek exit from the eurozone.
Now the debate is focused on a possible British exit from the EU — or Brexit — that would occupy European leaders in December, he said, saying it was a “serious hypothesis” that could not be ignored.
(Comments on the refugee crisis in different article).
Hollande also addressed the Greek parliament, becoming the third French leader to do so after General Charles de Gaulle in 1963 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.
When he arrived on Thursday, Hollande recalled the “bold decisions” taken by Tsipras, who in July agreed to more public spending cuts in return for a three-year, 86-billion-euro ($96-billion) EU bailout to prevent Greece crashing out of the eurozone.
“We did everything, France and Greece… for Greece to remain in Europe,” he said.
Tsipras on Friday acknowledged that Hollande “was among those who persuaded me that I had to accept” the bailout.
Later, while visiting Athens University, Hollande said that during July’s marathon talks, he had closely watched the leaders of countries that had recently joined the eurozone, thinking “who would be next for missing a target, for having a higher-than-forecast debt?”
The French leader has also pleaded for a renegotiation via an interest deferral of the soaring Greek public debt, which is equal to around 200 percent of the country’s entire annual economic output.
Greece is undergoing a review by EU-IMF auditors after pushing through parliament another round of unpopular tax measures.
Hollande also emphasized the need for Greece to honor its commitments.
“I know the reforms are very demanding, I know they are hard,” he said, referring in particular to actions demanded by lenders regarding Greece’s tax administration, pension system and the modernization of state mechanisms. “But all these are necessary for Greece’s future,” he said.
Echoing the creditors’ stance on debt, he said that talks on relief could begin once all commitments have been met.
“We support Greece,” he said, noting that the country has suffered “an unprecedented crisis” over the past six years.
“What I am expressing is not empathy, it is support for a strong cooperation,” he said, adding that France is “a great friend of Greece.”
Hollande indicated that Greece should be cut some slack in some areas, notably proposing more discussion on the thorny issue regarding the threshold for foreclosures involving primary residences.
In a joint press conference with Hollande before the French leader’s speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also broached the issue of foreclosures, using much stronger language.
“Turning Greece into an arena for foreclosures is unacceptable,” Tsipras said, and hit out at “absurd and extreme neo-liberal interventions” that, he said, threatened to undermine Greece’s program.
Tsipras said Greece would meet its commitments and respects European rules but demanded respect. “We are not convicts serving a sentence, we are equal partners,” he said.
Both leaders referred to the night of July 12, when Tsipras eventually signed a compromise with his European peers. Tsipras acknowledged that Hollande was “among those” who persuaded him to accept the deal. “That night was about our common existence in the euro,” Hollande said.
During their talks at the Maximos Mansion, Hollande pledged to serve as a bridge between Greece and its creditors so that pending issues can be resolved, sources said.
The two leaders also signed a strategic partnership agreement, foreseeing France supplying know-how for public administration and cracking down on tax evasion. Cooperation in various business sectors was also discussed.