French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, accompanied by Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir, will visit Greece today (3 March), aiming to offer political backing for the crucial bailout talks of the indebted country.
Greek media quote a source close to Sapin as saying that the French politician is satisfied with the return of the institutions to Athens and hopes to submit their reports before the next Eurogroup on 20-21 March.
According to the same source, Sapin hopes Greece will return to the markets in 2018, after eight years of exclusion.
“The minister intends to help as much as possible, for this return of Greece,” the source noted.
The Greek government views the visit with great importance amid tough talks with its lenders for the conclusion of the bailout second review.
Cazeneuve will meet Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras at noon today and then they will have a working dinner, joined by the Greek and French ministers of finance, economy, and European affairs.
On the agenda are the bailout talks, investments, and the future of Europe as well as the refugee crisis.
The Athens News Agency quotes Greek government sources as saying that “Paris has traditionally backed Athens’ positions […] it has played a constructive role against the extreme stance of a part of the country’s lenders.”
The enhanced cooperation between Greece and France began during the critical talks for a third Greek bailout in summer 2015, in which French President François Hollande allegedly backed Athens and prevented a Grexit.
Mediterranean countries come closer
Europe’s southern countries, especially their leftwing socialist leaders, are engaged in an informal collaboration covering a number of issues ranging from migration to the demand for less austerity and more pro-growth measures across the EU.
The first meeting took place in Athens last September and another one followed in Portugal’s Lisbon in January this year.
In April 2016, Portugal’s Socialist Premier Antonio Costa co-signed with Tsipras an anti-austerity document that said that “After six years of the first bailout programme in Europe, we can confirm that austerity alone is failing in its own terms and has had a social and economic impact that has gone far from what was anticipated.”
This week (1 March) Malta’s Socialist Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, also met with Tsipras in Athens and stressed the need for a social pillar in Europe’s future.
“We are very close to our hearts and I think that what we started a month ago with the summit of the Mediterranean countries has already achieved some positive results,” the Maltese politician said, adding that there are some member states with different political views and need to be convinced.
“There may be a coalition of the willing that wants to take a step forward, in order to have a real vision for better social conditions and less unemployment,” he stated.
French Socialist MEP Gilles Pargneaux (S&D), told euractiv.com that Brexit “forces us to rethink the way we do things in Europe”.
“Countries such as France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal face similar challenges: migration, security, proximity of an unstable neighborhood… issues that justify enhanced cooperation between them,” Pargneaux emphasised, adding that strong alliances with progressive politicians of these countries must be forged.
EU Parliament and Commission
The Mediterranean rapprochement is further boosted by a recent shift of political balances in the European Parliament, with progressive political forces getting closer.
After the collapse of the European People’s Party’s (EPP) coalition with the S&D following the right-wing Italian lawmaker Antonio Tajani’s election victory, the creation of a progressive coalition is underway.
The Socialists, Greens, and European Left have also formed a front against the possibility of a multi-speed Europe.
Speaking with EURACTIV, several high-ranking Social Democrats, Green and leftist officials stressed that Europe needed a radical change to its austerity-driven policies and not multiple speeds as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggests.
The latest reaction came from S&D leader Gianni Pittella, who rejected the Commission’s White Paper on the future of Europe.
“We are disappointed with the European Commission White Paper. We consider it a mistake to simply present five possible scenarios for the future of the European Union, instead of singling out a strong and comprehensive choice to fortify ourselves against the current storm we are facing […] we need a strong social pillar to protect our citizens,” the Italian politician insisted.
In addition, the same parties share the same view regarding Greece and austerity-driven policies and very often make supportive statements towards its leftist government.
At the EU’s executive level, Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who is a French socialist, has always backed Athens and rejected a Grexit scenario.
In Greece, Moscovici is considered to have a friendlier stance toward Athens compared to others in the Commission.
In a recent interview with Euronews, he reiterated that Grexit was not an option.
“No. Grexit is not an option. Grexit was on the table – and I regretted that – before the agreement of July 2015. So, no question of a Grexit, that’s impossible and it wouldn’t be fair due to the actual performance of the Greek economy,” Moscovici said.