Hollande vows to help Greece on reforms, refugees

23rd October 2015, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande on Friday pledged to help Greece carry out tough bailout reforms and to cope with a crisis on its borders where record numbers of migrants are arriving.

Hollande, whose visit was rocked by news of a coach crash that killed at least 42 people in southern France, is backing Athens as it grapples with reform demands from its European Union and IMF creditors.

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.

"We must listen to Greek officials when they tell us that they want to go all the way," he said.

The French leader said such efforts had been instrumental in eliminating talk of a Greek exit from the eurozone -- or Grexit -- that dominated headlines earlier in the year.

In contrast, he said, it was now talk of a British exit from the EU -- or Brexit -- that would occupy European leaders in December. Brexit, Hollande said, was a "serious hypothesis" that could not be ignored.

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-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 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.

Hollande 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.

- 'Extreme' neo-liberal measures -

A dispute on home foreclosures arose with the creditors on Thursday, and Tsipras lashed out on Friday against "absurd and extreme neo-liberal interventions" that threatened to undermine the bailout agreement.

"Such interventions threaten social peace...Greece signed a deal that it will honour. It did not sign a pact to surrender its sovereignty and destroy its social cohesion," the Greek leader said.

Hollande said he supported a Greek request to the European Union for a credit extension of 330 million euros in 2016 to cope with the influx of migrants, with more than 500,000 people arriving in Greece since January.

The French president has also pledged to encourage the French to invest in Greece.

© 2015 AFP

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