French leader Hollande calls for growth, debt relief on Athens visit

French leader Hollande calls for growth, debt relief on Athens visit

French President Francois Hollande called on Thursday for growth and debt relief to become part of the discussion between Greece and its lenders as he arrived in Athens for a two-day visit.

Hollande told journalists he has come to Greece in a visit of “support and friendship” shortly after arriving in Athens and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Hollande was then welcomed at the Presidential Mansion by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

In further public comments, the Frenchman suggested that the eurozone should start discussing debt relief with the government.

“Greece showed that it wants to stay in the eurozone and we showed our solidarity,” he said. “We know the efforts Greek people have made and the reforms that have been made, even over the last few months. The next step has to be on debt and this must start soon.”

The Socialist leader also urged foreign companies to invest in Greece.

“The key issue is growth and job creation, not just fiscal discipline,” he said. “If someone loves Greece they don’t just come on holiday to Greece, they also invest in Greece.”

During the dinner hosted by Pavlopoulos in Hollande’s honor, the Greek president praised the French leader for the constructive role he played during the previous government’s tense bailout talks with the eurozone in the summer.

“At a difficult time for my country, France – and you personally – contributed greatly to Greece remaining in the European Union and the eurozone,” said Pavlopoulos. “We will recognize this for ever more.”

Despite high expectations on the part of Greek authorities, it appears the visit is rather symbolic.

The political delegation accompanying Hollande on his visit is smaller than expected, though Finance Minister Michel Sapin is with him.

Also, despite reports that Hollande would be flanked by dozens of French entrepreneurs, the actual number of businesspeople traveling with the French leader is exactly five, Kathimerini understands.

Although Hollande indicated, in an interview with Kathimerini, that he aimed to urge French companies to invest in Greece, it appears that businesses are more inclined to await further signs of stability before committing.

For instance, the French national railway company (SNCF) rebuffed reports that it was interested in Greece’s railway service operator Trainose.

Hollande’s comments following his talks with Tsipras and his speech to Parliament will not be aired by the Greek media following Thursday’s decision by the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) to call a 24-hour strike, starting at 6 a.m. on Friday, to protest a planned overhaul of the Greek pension system and a bill paving the way for the issuing of tenders for broadcasting licenses.

The strike will result in a blackout of all Greek private and state television channels, including Parliament’s Vouli channel, which usually airs the proceedings but is not expected to broadcast a scheduled speech to the House on Friday by Hollande.

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