François Hollande Applauds Greece While Considering Own Economy

A Greek flag on top of the Acropolis in Athens. Photo: Olga Symeonoglou

A Greek flag on top of the Acropolis in Athens.
Photo: Olga Symeonoglou

On Tuesday, February 19, French President Francois Hollande was welcomed in Athens, Greece as a crucial friend to the country. Hollande’s visit was to pay his respects for the considerable efforts that Greece has made to clean up their finances and engage in structural reforms. Alongside the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, Hollande paid homage to the country and affirmed that “the upholding of Greece in the eurozone is a great benefit.”

He called upon French entrepreneurs to contribute to the re-launch of the country, which survived its sixth year of recession, to pay particular heed to the vast program of privatizations dictated in Athens by fund backers, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Concerning the current privatizations, he stated that “when the bids are launched, French companies must be present,” highlighting their savoir-faire in the domains of energy, water management and transport of iron (all important sectors in which large companies will be sold).

Hollande pointed out that Greek authorities solicited help from the French Deposits and Consignments Fund (a French financial organization under the control of the Parliament) to contribute to the financing of Greece. The president was equally engaged in expanding, mostly regarding matters of health, and he called for French technical assistance to be supplied to Greece in order to reform public services and modernize its administration.

At this time, Athens has undertaken explorations researching hydrocarbon deposits in is marine area. Hollande believes that, “if France could contribute to this undertaking, it would make [her].” This claim echoed Greek media speculations, which predicted that Total, a privately owned French petroleum company, would express interest in these prospects.

In office since June and heading a coalition of socialists and moderate leftists, the leading conservative, Antonis Samaras, did his part in thanking Paris for the unwavering support when the markets and rest of Europe predicted (and possibly hoped) that Greece would be excluded from the Eurozone. “France supported us to remain a part of Europe and supports us now as we and Europe rise out of this crisis [together],” he said. Unfortunately, Hollande did not benefit form positive media attention in Greece as a result of a twenty-four hour strike of journalists, protesting rising austerity in French finances imposed in October.

Like in Athens, Hollande is trying to distance himself from extreme measures of rigor. He criticized the political idea of “austerity without end,” though France is currently considering some tactics used in Greece to help reduce deficits. While Hollande was in Greece, Prime Minister  Jean-Marc Ayrault remained in Paris, where he strove to handle contradictory statements of French Ministers on forecasts of financial development. Hollande has stated that, in the future, he will not supply figures or forecasts of financial growth. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, affirmed that the governmental forecast of 0.8% growth in 2013 will undoubtedly be lowered to around 0.2% or 0.3%. It was during a press conference alongside Antonis Samaras that Hollande plead against “Europe that condemns the countries to austerity without end.” The words, “the clean-up of public finances is necessary, but without suffering,” were aimed at the Greek situation, but apply just as much to France.

France is looking to decrease its deficit, and looking to Greece may be a good start. In Paris, Ayrault stood before socialist deputies and assuaged them by saying that there is currently no plan for the announcement of a new economic plan of “rigor” for 2013. He also assured them that family politics will not be called into question. The path of taxation of family benefits to diminish deficits was brought up this past weekend by the first president of the Court of Auditors and was very badly received. Ayrault claimed that, “the question is how to better manage public expenses, but to do so in such a way that certain policies, like that of the family, which produce results, are not challenged.” Though Europe has faced its fiscal challenges in the past few years, it appears that, through strong leadership, it will be able to pull itself out of the crisis and rise to success once more.

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