French PM visits Athens to offer support on bailout talks

Cazeneuve will meet his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras at noon. [Parti socialiste/Flickr]

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.

Southern EU countries in push for anti-austerity alliance

The Greek government has invited the leaders of five southern EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain, to Athens in a bid to forge an anti-austerity alliance.

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.”

Progressives accuse Merkel of pushing a North-South divide

Europe needs a radical change of its austerity-driven policies and not multiple speeds as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggests, high-ranking Social-Democrat, Green and leftist officials told Euractiv.com.

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.

Valetta and Athens insist ‘social pillar’ should be part of Europe’s future

Malta and Greece have pledged to work more closely even in a “coalition of the willing” to seek more social Europe. EURACTIV Greece reports.

“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.

Tsipras: Euro-Med summit will unite Europe, not divide it

EXCLUSIVE / The meeting of leaders from Southern European countries taking place in Athens today (9 September) will put Mediterranean issues on the EU agenda, without attempting to create divisions, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

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.

‘Juncker’s real scenario’ is multi-speed Europe

Of all five scenarios proposed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for the way forward after Brexit, the real scenario is Number 3: “Those who want more do more,” which is another way of saying that the EU will be multi-speed, EURACTIV.com was told.

“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.

Progressives accuse Merkel of pushing a North-South divide

Europe needs a radical change of its austerity-driven policies and not multiple speeds as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggests, high-ranking Social-Democrat, Green and leftist officials told Euractiv.com.

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.

Greece's lenders shift from austerity to reforms

The Eurogroup took a small step on Monday (20 February) towards the completion of the second review of Greece’s €86 billion rescue programme, placing the emphasis on reforms over austerity to reduce the country’s huge debt pile.

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.

Eurogroup deputy: 'Grexit is a non-issue'

Eurogroup Working Group President Thomas Wieser told Euractiv Germany that he remains confident the IMF will participate in the Greek bailout programme and that ‘Grexit’ is not even an issue.

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