French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Greece on the eve of the prime minister’s customary speech at the opening of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) is a move tied to our internal politics because the opposition will criticize the agreement made by the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks (ANEL) coalition with the institutions, as our high-level visitor will praise the country’s prospects. This is ephemeral of course, because everything is judged by its effect on everyday life and not staged demonstrations of friendship and state visits. Nonetheless, they are essential, for historical reasons and due to ongoing developments in the European Union.
France’s role in the post-junta years has been decisive on many levels. Greece joined the European Economic Community in large part thanks to the support of then French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who became great friends with Constantine Karamanlis during the latter’s time in Paris.
Andreas Papandreou was inspired by Francois Mitterrand’s pre-election slogans, including “Change here and now,” and adopted them successfully in his own campaign to become prime minister of Greece. Papandreou also successfully adopted Mitterrand’s methods, which led to the far-right Front National party in France and the LAOS party here in Greece.
Lastly, the assistance from President Francois Hollande and the European Commission to the Greek government in the summer of 2015, when Tsipras was trying to shake up the European establishment, was valuable as it kept him from hitting a wall.
France has lost its past leverage, mostly due to the growth of German power. Giscard d’Estaing had previously asserted Germany as an equal partner next to the US and UK by inviting then German chancellor Helmut Schmidt to the 1979 Guadeloupe Conference. As president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995, Jacques Delors was responsible for building much of the EU’s bureaucratic apparatus which later came under the control of Berlin. France insisted on introducing the euro, which ultimately consolidated German domination over the continent. The French strategy simply backfired.
Now Macron is trying to restore a lost balance. This is met with condescension and politeness from Chancellor Angela Merkel and, occasionally, with cynicism from her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble. Macron is trying to give life to an informal alliance within the 28-member bloc. He will be visiting Greece with a number of French entrepreneurs. The French president is welcome, of course, and so are any potential French investors. But that does not change the fact that the balance in Europe has been irreparably damaged. In light of the mess Greece is in, however, any French interest in the country is not to be discarded.