The French connection

By Costas Iordanidis

French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Athens was significant in that it conveyed his country’s investment interest in Greece. The move was therefore welcome as a PR stunt, but the impact of such visits is far from long-lasting because of Greece’s brutal economic reality: The recession is in its sixth year, GDP has dropped by 25 percent and unemployment has skyrocketed to record levels.

On a political level, the visit did confirm the almost special relationship between Greece and France in terms of the EU project. Hollande was right to point out that it was much thanks to support from Paris that Greece joined the EEC and then the eurozone. In both cases, it was French officials that helped beat German skepticism.

Nevertheless, France’s business interest in Greece depends on other parameters. Like every other political leader, the French president is keen to promote the business interests of his country. However, private companies make decisions on the basis of their own interests, and not on the recommendations of their governments. Interestingly, some of the investment ideas mentioned by Hollande fall within the territory of public corporations. The issue is whether all this is more than a show for the suffering masses.

The issue of hydrocarbons exploitation inside Greece’s exclusive economic zone is extremely complicated. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has tied the exploitation of any deposits in Greece as well as Cyprus to reducing energy dependence on Europe and other suppliers like Russia and the Middle East. It’s an appealing argument, at least in theory.

The prospect of exploiting the deposits in partnership with France, as Hollande suggested, could be a boost for the Greek government’s plans. The likely lease of two French frigates and four aircraft could be seen as military support to Greece in view of a risky political initiative. But one should not deem that these would be enough to deal with a possible Turkish reaction.

The proposals and prospects created by Hollande were spectacular – quite similar to those created by former President Nicolas Sarkozy during his speech at the Greek Parliament a few years ago. France has systematically sought to enhance its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus’s late President Tassos Papadopoulos had granted France rights to use a military base in an area sensitive to British interests. But it would be unwise to lose one’s sense of moderation when it comes to the balance of power. And one can never ignore the factor that is Turkey.