Athens, October 23, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Zacharias Petrou
French President Francois Hollande arrived in Athens on Thursday afternoon for an official two-day visit.
Traveling with a delegation of top government ministers, officials and representatives of the business world, Francois Hollande is expected to express French interest in the Greek privatization program.
The French President will be accompanied on this high-profile visit – among others – by Finance Minister Michel Sapin, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin.
The President of the Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos organised an official red-carpet reception ceremony for his French counterpart. Hollande received Greece’s highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer medal, before an official dinner hosted by President Pavlopoulos.
“Greece showed that it wants to stay in the eurozone and we showed our solidarity,” he said. “We know the efforts Greek people have made and the reforms that have been made, even over the last few months. The next step has to be on debt and this must start soon.”
The Greek government hopes that a strong statement by the French President on Greece’s debt could help the country’s cause for relief. A discussion on the issue is expected to begin as soon as the ongoing review of progress in the implementation of the Greek bailout program is wrapped up.
Prokopis Pavlopoulos expressed his gratitude for his counterpart’s help during the crisis. “At a difficult time for my country, France – and you personally – contributed greatly to Greece remaining in the European Union and the eurozone,” said Pavlopoulos. “We will recognize this for ever more.”
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 creditors over the last few months. In a statement to AFP news agency, Gerovassili said the ongoing evaluation of the Greek economy by EU-IMF experts, and the crucial recapitalization of Greek banks will be discussed.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and French President Francois Hollande will sign a declaration foreseeing France offering technical know-how in public administration, taxation and reforms; a boosting of bilateral trade; and closer cooperation in technology, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, education and culture.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to discuss with F. Hollande how French investment can be attracted to Greece, especially in the energy and transport sectors.
The two sides will discuss the “Juncker package” on growth, the strengthening of investment activity and wider cooperation in the financial sector.
In an interview with Kathimerini newspaper, F. Hollande said before landing in Athens that the Greek program may be difficult and with tight deadlines but it is time for the country to exit the crisis. “I will be there to help just as I did at the European Council” Hollande added.
The French President warned that Greece must show responsibility and adhere to the rules. However, he pointed out that the program rests also on the solidarity of EU partners.
Hollande will address the Greek Parliament on Friday at noon.