French President Francois Hollande addressed the Greek Parliament on Friday afternoon, reaffirming France’s support to Greece while calling for debt relief and the implementation of the bailout agreement.
During his half hour speech, Hollande recognized the difficult task of implementing the bailout’s prescribed reforms, specifically, reforms to the taxation and pension system. The French President described them as necessary and noted that the 86 billion euro bailout package will help in Greece’s recovery.
He praised Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for his effort in defending Greece’s positions during the July 12 negotiations that led to an agreement between Greece and creditors. Hollande has been widely viewed as being Tsipras’s closest ally during these negotiations.
The French head of state further claimed France will continue supporting Greece and offered French assistance in the implementation of the necessary reforms for the country’s return to growth, including combating tax evasion as well as utilizing public property.
“Since the beginning I tried to support Greece’s membership in the Eurozone. For a very simple reason: Without Greece Europe would not be Europe and the Eurozone would lose its legitimacy,” he said.
He also noted that the that the Greek debt relief, which he called necessary, and the disbursement of 35 billion euros to Greece for investments must be addressed. He added that the next weeks will be decisive.
Hollande called for the Greek budget to be financed, the banking sector to be recapitalized and capital controls that have restricted the Greek economy since late June to be lifted.
The Greek banking sector’s recapitalization hinges on the completion of the first review of Greece’s new bailout deal and could inject 25 billion euros into the country’s banks.
Representatives of Greece’s creditors — the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the European Stability Mechanism Fund and the International Monetary Fund — have been in Athens during Hollande’s state visit, to negotiate with the Greek government over the adoption of additional reforms that will secure future bailout funds for the Greek economy.
Greek authorities and creditor representatives have not been able to bridge their differences so far, a discord which will have implications on the anticipated disbursement of two billion euros of bailout funds.
Among the issues separating the two sides are foreclosures on homes, with the main disagreement on the limit of the value of the protected first homes as well as the role of income when considering foreclosure.
During his parliamentary speech, Hollande called for the rights of Greeks to be respected, particularly the right to having a home, noting that he is referring to foreclosure of the first home. Earlier in the day Hollande had noted that foreclosures are a matter that must be reexamined.
Following a meeting with Hollande earlier in the day, Tsipras reiterated that while Greece will adhere to the bailout agreements it will not accept mass foreclosures.
“I want to make it clear, that the transformation of Greek society into an arena of first home foreclosures cannot be accepted from anyone who embraces Europe’s ideals of solidarity,” the Greek Prime Minister said and added that the Greek government is not a convict serving time but an equal counterpart.
The Greek premiere expressed his hope that the Greek banking sector’s recapitalization will happen before the end of the year.
Economic Relations and Refugees
Hollande also spoke on Greece’s economic relationship with France, with French companies employing 12,000 people in Greece. The French president was joined by prominent French businessmen during his state visit to Greece, an invitation he extended in order to foster trust in Greece’s economy.
“I want France to increase its presence. To participate in big infrastructure plans, in the health sector, the energy sector, in new technologies. France can contribute. And you can establish a strategic corporate relationship with France” he said from the parliament’s stand.
In relation to the refugee crisis, he emphasized that Europe must protect its borders, and cannot leave Greece and Italy to deal with this issue alone.
The International Organization for Migration reported that between October 18 and October 21 around 48,000 migrants and refugees arrived on the Greek islands. As of October 20, 537,460 arrivals have been registered since the beginning of the year.