Greece buoyed by Hollande visit

The mood in the government, and the outlook for a boost to the economy, were significantly brighter on Wednesday, sources said, following a lightning visit to Athens on Tuesday by French President Francois Hollande, who pledged to push French firms to invest in Greece and expressed an interest in working with Athens to exploit oil and gas reserves in the Aegean.

Government sources said Hollande’s expression of solidarity for Greece’s continued presence in the eurozone and his insistence on avoiding the imposition of further austerity “on a people that have been tested like no other European nation” had lifted the rather gloomy mood in the Maximos Mansion.

Although there were no indications of specific commitments by Hollande, the French leader told reporters that he would speak to representatives of French firms on his return to Paris and press them to join tenders for the privatization of Greek state assets including the state-owned Athens and Thessaloniki water companies, the DEPA and DESPA gas companies and the national railway. It is also widely expected that French firm EDF will bid for a stake in the Public Power Corporation when that tender is announced.

The only actual agreement signed during Hollande’s six-hour visit was a deal aimed at boosting Greece’s crucial tourism sector.

But more significance was attached to the French leader’s insistence on the need for boosting growth in Greece, and his pledge to urge French firms to join a privatization drive aimed at achieving this. The suggestion that France would join Greece in exploiting mineral reserves in the Aegean, and the insistence on the need for Turkey to respect the laws of the sea, were also well received, according to sources. In the first instance, France is expected to lease two FREMM-type frigates and four aircraft to Greece at a heavily discounted rate.

During his short stay in the capital, Hollande also met with Greek and French entrepreneurs and pressed the latter to persevere with their activity in Greece. The French leader, a Socialist elected last spring, also met with PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos for talks that touched on the rise of the ultra-right Golden Dawn and what PASOK sources referred to as “the blatantly pro-Nazi statements and activities” of the party’s leader.

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