NEWS

French officials offer support but urge action too

TAGS: Politics, Diplomacy

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls underlined France’s particularly strong support for Greece on Friday, and pledged to send more experts in taxation and public administration to Athens in the coming months, while his Finance Minister Michel Sapin referred to the “difficulties” Greece still faces with its reform efforts.

In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Friday, Valls declared that “the French government stands by the side of the Greek government.” Valls also noted that many had questioned whether Greece had a future in the eurozone last year but that France had thrown its full support behind Greece and averted the risk of a Greek exit from the euro. Tsipras struck a similar tone, noting that France’s stance had averted “extreme behavior which, focused on Greece, was putting the eurozone at risk.”

The completion of a deal between Greece and its international creditors at a Eurogroup summit last month marked a “new page for Greece,” Valls said. He added that France was committed to continuing to provide technical support for Greece, particularly for the improvement of tax collection and public administration, with a new contingent of French experts to be sent to Athens in September.

The French premier underlined French interest in Greek privatizations and in participating in the Greek tourism and agriculture sectors as well as supporting local startups. As far as state sell-offs are concerned, there is said to be French interest in the new Kastelli airport near the Cretan port of Iraklio, the Thessaloniki water company (EYATH) and the operating arm of the Hellenic Railways Organization, Trainose.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos also discussed privatizations with his French counterpart Sapin as well as outstanding reforms that Greece must legislate before creditors can approve the disbursement of 7.5 billion euros in rescue loans. Sapin was more cautious in his statements than Valls, noting that “the difficulties have not finished” for Greece and that “efforts must continue.”

Greece is aiming to legislate the last few prior actions over the coming days so that foreign auditors can issue their compliance report and eurozone finance ministers can sign off on further rescue loans that Athens needs to pay down debt maturing in July.

Tsipras and Valls also discussed Europe’s migration crisis, another big issue that Greek authorities are grappling with. Tsipras noted that France is taking in 400 migrants per month as part of a European Union relocation scheme and called on other EU member-states to show similar solidarity.

The two leaders also discussed an agreement between the EU and Turkey, which has been in place since March and foresees the return of migrants from Greece to Turkey, and security concerns arising from the exploitation of the migrant flows by radicalized supporters of the so-called Islamic State.

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