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24/07/2016

Tsipras and Corbyn expected in Paris ahead of European Council

UK & Europe

Tsipras and Corbyn expected in Paris ahead of European Council

Jeremy Corbyn and Alexis Tsipras.

EXCLUSIVE / Alexis Tsipras and Jeremy Corbyn will travel to Paris for an extraordinary pre-summit meeting ahead of the European Council summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 February. EurActiv France reports

The Elysée Palace, the seat of the French Presidency, has played host to many pre-summit meetings of Europe’s left wing heads of state and government. But this time it’s different.

EurActiv has learned that Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party and Greece’s prime minister, will join the meeting of European Socialists for the first time.

>>Read: Social-Democrats meet in Paris to face up to Conservatives (in French)

Until now, these pre-council meetings have been attended by Socialists, democrats and German SDP members including Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel. So the invitation of a party branded by many as the “radical left” may come as a surprise.

One year ago, a minister in Manuel Valls’ French government had said, “Tsipras is like Mélenchon.” But a lot can change in a year, and France wove a special relationship with the Greek leader during his attempts to resolve the Greek crisis last summer.

One episode in particular brought the two countries closer together. As Tsipras was ready to abandon the process, the French president managed to re-establish contact with the Greek leader in the small hours one weekend and convince him to stay at the negotiating table. Since then, the relationship has been more peaceful.

Tsipras has also smoothed things over with Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament.

>>Read: Tsipras struggles with recalcitrant French leadership

The presence of British Labour Party leader Corbyn at the Paris meeting will also be a first. Typically for the Labour party’s left wing, Corbyn pays lip service to the anti-Brexit movement, but the veteran British politician is known for his generally Eurosceptic views.

>>Read: French Socialists inspired by Syriza victory

The Brexit referendum will form the backbone of discussions at the February European Council. British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to campaign for the UK to stay in the European Union if his demands are met., and the results of the renegotiation should be known this week.

Throughout the United Kingdom’s tussle with the European Union, France has insisted that certain “red lines” be observed. By hosting the pre-summit meeting in Paris and inviting leaders from the left and radical left, the French leadership hopes to show David Cameron what he is up against.

While the right may hold a large majority in the European Parliament, and so too by extension in the Commission, the evolution of political forces since 2014 shows encouraging signs for the left.

>>Read: Hollande’s ambitious ‘New Deal’ for Europe

Background

The European Council of 18 and 19 February will focus on the sensitive question of Brexit. The EU's national leaders will be asked to ratify the proposed solutions to the four demands made by the United Kingdom.

The question of migration will also be raised, particularly with regard to the previous decisions made by the Council on the distribution of refugees and the management of the situation. The Council will then examine a recommendation on the eurozone.