In a landmark speech in Parliament on Friday, French President Francois Hollande vowed that France would stand by Greece as it seeks to implement reforms and urged authorities to stay the course in order to pave the way for talks on debt relief.
Addressing a packed House under tight security, Hollande repeatedly praised Greek authorities, and MPs, for passing a tough bailout into law and taking a “brave decision” to stay in the eurozone.
But, as talks continued between government officials and envoys representing the country’s international creditors, Hollande also emphasized the need for Greece to honor its commitments.
“I know the reforms are very demanding, I know they are hard,” he said, referring in particular to actions demanded by lenders regarding Greece’s tax administration, pension system and the modernization of state mechanisms. “But all these are necessary for Greece’s future,” he said.
Echoing the creditors’ stance on debt, he said that talks on relief could begin once all commitments have been met.
“We support Greece,” he said, noting that the country has suffered “an unprecedented crisis” over the past six years.
“What I am expressing is not empathy, it is support for a strong cooperation,” he said, adding that France is “a great friend of Greece.”
Hollande indicated that Greece should be cut some slack in some areas, notably proposing more discussion on the thorny issue regarding the threshold for foreclosures involving primary residences.
In a joint press conference with Hollande before the French leader’s speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also broached the issue of foreclosures, using much stronger language.
“Turning Greece into an arena for foreclosures is unacceptable,” Tsipras said, and hit out at “absurd and extreme neo-liberal interventions” that, he said, threatened to undermine Greece’s program.
Tsipras said Greece would meet its commitments and respects European rules but demanded respect. “We are not convicts serving a sentence, we are equal partners,” he said.
Both leaders referred to the night of July 12, when Tsipras eventually signed a compromise with his European peers. Tsipras acknowledged that Hollande was “among those” who persuaded him to accept the deal. “That night was about our common existence in the euro,” Hollande said.
The French president also addressed the refugee crisis, stressing the importance of supporting Greece financially but also with equipment and additional border guards through the European Union agency Frontex.
During their talks at the Maximos Mansion, Hollande pledged to serve as a bridge between Greece and its creditors so that pending issues can be resolved, sources said.
The two leaders also signed a strategic partnership agreement, foreseeing France supplying know-how for public administration and cracking down on tax evasion. Cooperation in various business sectors was also discussed.