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‘France to stand by Greece to lighten debt burden’, says Hollande

Thanassis Stavrakis, AFP | French President François Hollande (right) and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the Greek parliament in Athens on October 23, 2015

French President François Hollande on Friday pledged to help Greece alleviate its debt burden by backing Athen’s request for renegotiations over the terms of its bailout by the end of the year.

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The socialist French president is one of the few European leaders to have unabashedly lent support to young leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during months of fraught creditor talks earlier this year.

"France must continue to stand by Greece," Hollande told reporters after signing a strategic partnership with Tsipras, notably 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.

“Of course Greece must honour its commitments. But they are not contesting that,” Hollande said.

“What Greece is asking for is flexibility - that’s understandable,” he said. “Of course, when the (bailout) review is completed the renegotiation for the debt should begin to lighten the debt burden.”

Hollande said a fresh round of negotiations should start after bailout inspectors complete a review of Greece’s reforms progress, which is expected next month.

Greece’s economy is expected to weaken after briefly emerging from a six-year downturn, pushing its projected national debt to above 190 percent of annual GDP in 2016.

France played a key role this summer in hammering out the deal between Greece and Eurozone countries for a major third bailout, after talks came to the brink of collapse and Greece faced the possibility of a eurozone exit.

The major new round of austerity measures has angered unions who have called a general strike on November 12. Ongoing talks with bailout lenders have failed to end disagreement on how to tackle a growing number of bad loans threatening the country’s banking system.

On Friday, Tsipras promised to honour bailout commitments “to the letter.” But he claimed “extreme neoliberal” supporters in Europe - a thinly veiled reference to fiscal hawks in the German finance ministry - were trying to undermine the deal.

“It’s one thing to honour our commitments and agreements, and another to consider Greece not to be an equal partner but a convict serving a sentence,” he said.

Migrant influx

The French leader promised, too, to stand by Greece as it grapples with rising numbers of migrants.

"Greece is our frontier," he added, pledging 60 French experts to reinforce EU border agency Frontex, helping it to staff emergency registration centres across the region.

"We must cooperate to protect our borders," Hollande said, adding that those who did not meet refugee criteria "should be turned back."

The International Organisation for Migration said Greece had 48,000 migrants and refugees landing on its shores in the past five days, the highest number of weekly arrivals so far.

Hollande also vowed to support Greece in an address to the parliament, becoming the third French president to speak before the chamber after General Charles de Gaulle in 1963 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

On his arrival in Athens 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 EU bailout to prevent Greece crashing out of the eurozone.

"We did everything, France and Greece... for Greece to remain in Europe and that Europe show solidarity with Greece.

"And today, that is the message that I will continue to carry."

Tsipras on Friday acknowledged that Hollande "was among those who persuaded me that I had to accept" the July bailout.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

 

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