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FRANCE - GREECE

French PM sells Greece diplomacy to divided Parliament

FRANCE 24 Screengrab I French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses the National Assembly on July 8, 2015
3 min

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Parliament on Wednesday that Greece must remain within the eurozone, in a speech in which he tried to convince a divided French political class to show unity in its response to the Greek crisis.

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Even as France tries to draw a hardening Germany and a hostile Greece closer together, President François Hollande has struggled to forge a common stance on the pressing issue back home.

France “refuses a Greek exit from the Eurozone,” Valls insisted, adding that accepting such a move would be an admission of weakness. Instead, he said, France was doing “everything it can to bring all parties to a compromise."

Valls’s comments, which included a staunch defence of Hollande’s handling of the crisis, were met with derision from opposition lawmakers in Parliament. Critics accuse Hollande of alienating France’s traditional ally Germany, which has turned cold towards debt-stricken Greece after Athens had rejected austerity measures that a new bailout package had called for.

"Mr Tsipras is not looking for an agreement, but is arm wrestling against Greece's European partners. Syriza's behaviour has been irresponsible," declared MP Pierre Lequiller, a member of the main opposition Les Républicains party.

Hollande also faces criticism from fellow Socialists, some of whom believe he is not doing enough to help Greece and its left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whom they see as a natural ally.

Rebels within Hollande’s party went as far as to join protests in Paris, in which around 3,000 French demonstrators urged Greeks to reject a bailout deal with international creditors.

Greece now has to propose a reform plan on Thursday in order to reach a deal ahead of a European Union summit on Sunday. Failing to convince its European partners could push Greek banks towards collapse and the country out of the eurozone.

Looking to 2017

While former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains has hardened its stance towards the Greek government – saying that Tsipras is no longer in a position to negotiate – France’s far right anti-EU National Front party, has ecstatically welcomed a Greek exit, as it could make way for other countries, including France, to abandon the euro.

Both Sarkozy and Le Pen are likely to contest the French presidential elections in 2017. Opinion polls show Hollande trailing behind, in part due to the dismal performance of the French economy.

Still, Hollande has previously shown that his handling of international crises have boosted his popularity. By advocating for Greece, he would be directly appealing to his leftwing base.

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