French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Greece Thursday for the start of a two-day visit expected to focus on European affairs and Greece’s financial crisis.
Security is tight for the visit, with Greek authorities banning protests through a large part of central Athens and mobilizing more than 2,000 police on the capital’s streets.
Macron, who arrived with a sizeable delegation of French business leaders, was due to head to a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos before holding talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and speaking at a joint news conference. He was to deliver a speech Thursday evening at the Pnyx, a symbol of ancient Athenian democracy.
Greece considers France a vital ally and counterweight to fiscally hawkish Germany in its efforts to ease the stringent terms of its international bailouts. The country has relied on international rescue loans since 2010, and in return has seen its economy put under strict supervision by its creditors. Successive governments have had to enforce radical fiscal and structural reforms, including pension cuts and repeated tax hikes, in order to qualify for the loans.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos hailed the visit as a sign that Greece had finally turned the page and had emerged from its deep financial crisis.
The future of the European Union will top the agenda of talks in Athens, Tzanakopoulos said, adding that his choice of starting “the discussion for the future of Europe” during a visit to Greece “shows that we are at the end of a difficult course.”
Talks during Macron’s visit will also focus on French investments in Greece, and the progress of Greece’s reforms and the rest of its bailout, which officially finishes in mid-2018.
Despite heavy policing for the visit, youths managed overnight to throw paint at the entrance of the French Institute in the city center before escaping on motorcycles. The building has been repeatedly targeted by anarchist arsonists protesting French policies.
Last year, a French embassy police guard was slightly injured by a hand-grenade. [AP]