France's Hollande in visit to bolster struggling Greece
French President Francois Hollande on Thursday begins a two-day visit to Athens, bringing badly-needed support to the Greek leftist government during tough talks with EU-IMF auditors.
It marks the first visit by a French president since 2008, when Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was last in Athens.
Hollande will be accompanied by at least four members of his cabinet including Finance Minister Michel Sapin, and a number of business chiefs.
A French government source said the president was bringing "a message of confidence and optimism in Greece's future."
Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said the French president's visit confirmed a "special relationship" forged during "difficult moments" in negotiations between Greece and its European peers earlier this year.
Hollande will first hold talks with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Thursday, before seeing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday.
In a statement to AFP, Gerovassili said the two leaders would discuss the ongoing evaluation of the Greek economy by EU-IMF experts, and the crucial recapitalisation of Greek banks that lost billions of euros (dollars) in deposits earlier this year amid uncertainty caused by Tsipras's negotiations for a new EU bailout.
Like Sarkozy before him, Hollande will then address the Greek parliament on Friday.
The socialist French president is one of the few European leaders to have unabashedly lent support to young leftist Tsipras during months of fraught creditor talks earlier this year.
It was a magnanimous gesture as Tsipras had famously given Hollande a cheeky warning shortly after his election to the presidency in 2012.
"President Hollande knows he cannot break his promises and become an Hollandreou," Tsipras had said during a visit to France, referring to the fall of embattled socialist Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
In contrast, when Tsipras returned to power in a snap election last month, Hollande welcomed the 41-year-old's victory as an "important success" for Greece and Europe.
Tsipras will again need all the help he can get later this year to persuade his European peers to agree to debt relief measures for his crippled country.
The debt issue and investment initiatives will feature in his talks with Hollande, Gerovassili said.
© 2015 AFP