Visiting French President Francois Hollande said on Friday that he backed a Greek request to start negotiations with European lenders for better debt repayment terms.
Hollande, on the second day of an official visit to Greece, said the talks should start after bailout inspectors complete a review of Greece’s reforms progress, which is expected to be completed next month. But Greece would need to do its part too, according to Hollande.
“Of course Greece must honor its commitments. But they are not contesting that,” Hollande said after talks with left-wing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
“What Greece is asking for is flexibility — that’s understandable,” he said. “Of course when the (bailout) review is completed, the renegotiation for the debt should begin, to lighten the debt burden.”
The socialist French president is one of the few European leaders that openly threw his support behind Tsipras during months of tough negotiations with its EU and IMF creditors.
“France must continue to stand by Greece,” Hollande said after signing a strategic partnership with Tsipras offering French economic management expertise, especially to tackle tax evasion.
On his part, Tsipras promised to honor bailout commitments “to the letter.” But he claimed “extreme neoliberal” supporters in Europe — a thinly veiled reference to fiscal hawks in the German finance ministry — were trying to undermine the deal.
“It’s one thing to honor our commitments and agreements, and another to consider Greece not to be an equal partner but a convict serving a sentence,” he said. “We are equal partners, not convicts.”
He also promised to support Greece as it grapples with a rising number of refugees landing on its shores. “Greece is our frontier,” Hollande said, pledging 60 French experts to help EU border agency Frontex staff emergency registration centres across the region.
“We must cooperate to protect our borders,” he added, saying those who did not meet refugee criteria “should be turned back”.