Macron urges Europeans not to push Greece toward non-EU investors

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) attend a roundtable discussion with French and Greek business leaders at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. [LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / POOL/ EPA]

French President Emmanuel Macron urged EU member states on Friday (8 September) to show trust and make “European” investments in Greece in order to avoid pushing the debt-ridden Mediterranean country towards financial options outside Europe.

During a visit to Athens, Macron stressed that Greece was now climbing out of the crisis and that the French business community would take an active part in this effort.

“If there is no solidarity, we don’t have an ambitious European project […] I am not pleased when we have no European investment in Europe,” the French president said and added that “we should not push Greece to choose non-European investments” as has been the case in the past.

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Accompanied by 40 French businessmen, Macron stressed that France had always backed Athens during its eight-year crisis and “will continue to do so. […] I personally guarantee that”.

He said the absence of EU investments could force Greece to pick non-EU businesses, which would indicate that “there is no confidence in investing in Europe”.

China is already investing heavily in railways leading from the Greek port of Piraeus. China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), a Chinese state-owned enterprise, acquired the majority stake in the Piraeus Port Authority in 2016.

‘Chinese Balkan corridor’ pits EU north against south

The Western Balkans have become China’s preferred access point to the EU, and a corridor to Europe’s north from the Greek port of Piraeus is being financed by Beijing. But Brussels fears EU rules will not be respected, while in northern countries, big ports resent the competition.

The Chinese government considers Piraeus the main entry point for Chinese exports into the southern, eastern and central EU, as well as a key hub for seaborne transport across and around the Mediterranean Sea.

But northern Europe does not view these intense Chinese investments in a positive light.

Ambassador Michael Christides, secretary-general of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, recently stressed that Chinese involvement in the Western Balkans was “provoking second thoughts in northern Europe and especially in Brussels”.

“There are fears in the big ports of the north like Rotterdam, like Hamburg, of losing a lot of trade volume,” he said.

In the meantime, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who had accompanied Macron on the trip, praised the work of Greece’s leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“He works for the common good and he is a real leader,” Greek media quoted Le Maire as saying. “Very few work for the common good and not for special interests,” he added.

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French President Emmanuel Macron has promised an aggressive push to reform the European Union after the German election. But there is still great unease about opening this Pandora’s box.

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