Hollande hopes to boost Greek morale with Athens visit
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French President François Hollande started a two-day visit to Greece on Thursday, bringing badly needed support to the left-wing government during talks with EU-IMF auditors. Hollande was last in Athens in 2013 and he is accompanied by a delegation consisting of ministers and captains of industry.
The visit is first and foremost a symbolic one, according to the French presidency, with the aim of showing that France, as a representative of the EU, is not letting Greece down.
Some do welcome the visit of this highest-level delegation in two years from Paris.
“The French president is a friend of Greece,” says politician Angelis Angelopoulos, who is member of the Greek delegation to the EU commission in Strasbourg.
“He has supported the Greeks a lot this month and we believe that the symbolism of his visit can be materialised as new investments.”
Angelopoulos thinks the relationship between Hollande and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is sound, even though Tsipras, days after assuming office in January this year, was critical of the French president.
“All leaders at the first stage of their leadership, make comments in an exuberant way,” says Angelopoulos.
“But their relationship could herald a new era, based on the deep, good, human, strategic and democratic relations of the two countries.”
But some Greeks fear that an influx of foreign investment may lead to more economic hardship.
“I’m afraid that the visit of the French president is only aimed at the promotion of French economic interests in Greece,” says Leonidas Vatikiotis, an Athens-based economist.
“These are very concrete economic interests like air transportation, water facilities and many other business sectors where French enterprises have expressed willingness to invest and privatise Greek facilities.”
Meanwhile, on the eve of Hollande’s visit to Greece, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici, promised that support for the Greeks will continue if they go on with their reforms.
“The Greek government is cooperating very well," he told French radio. "They are now carrying out a certain number of reforms and in exchange we are giving them money.”
A total of three billion euros in relief funds, part of a larger bailout programme, will be paid to Greece in the coming weeks.
“In November we are going to check where they are with their reform programme and then we will tackle two very important issues: the recapitalisation of the Greek banks and the matter of the Greek debts,” Moscovici said.
But scepticism remains.
“I believe that it is only a matter of months for this government to accept that this Memorandum of Understanding can not be applied to Greece,” with or without the moral support of Paris, says Vatikiotis.
“The aim of the privatisation is to collect 50 billion euros. It is impossible to collect such an amount. And even if they manage to collect this sum, the privatisation of Greek assets will have a very negative impact on the well-being of Greek people, and in the economic health of the Greek state."
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