Will Hollande use his good offices for Greece?
An important visitor is expected in Athens tomorrow. French President Francois Hollande will pay an official visit to the Greek capital after an invitation by the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras during the last Euro summit meeting. He is the Socialist leader of a country with the second strongest economy in the eurozone, but it is also a country under the threat of recession, struggling to maintain its financial credibility against a continuing crisis in the eurozone.
The Greek side had placed high hopes on the election of Hollande to the presidency, thinking that the Sarkozy-Merkel front could be broken and replaced by a Socialist president with a more lenient approach to the struggling south. But their expectations have been somewhat curbed by the apparent choice of Hollande not to come out openly against Germany, but rather try to find a way to cooperate.
“The French president is doing what he can, and he has seen that he could not do much,” commented the co-president of the Euro-Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, just days ago, referring to the recent compromise achieved over the EU budget in which the French, after having obtained a crucial agreement on farm subsidies last November, did not put enough of a fight against the EU budget cuts proposed by the Germans and the British. Still, France’s voice in the EU is considered important, especially for Europe’s suffering south, and it was interesting that in spite of the general pessimism and figures about the crisis in the eurozone, Hollande still struck an unexpected note of optimism, proclaiming the other day that “the crisis in the eurozone has come to its end, confidence has returned and the necessary steps towards a continuing solidarity among the members have been taken.”
A strong traditional ally for Greece, France is seen as a country that could, if it wanted, give a helping hand to the Samaras government in its attempts to persuade its creditors (the EU and the IMF) that some amendments should be made to the agreed memorandum to cope with the worst effects of the recession.
The latest figures for the Greek economy are nightmarish. According to forecasts, by the end of 2013 one in three Greeks will be unemployed and one in two young people will not have a job. Promises for investment and development can only be seen as a long term project. In the short term, few Greeks believe that the situation can be reversed.
Recently, IMF officials admitted that they miscalculated the recipe for the economic recovery of Greece. It was an admission that came too late, given that already the country long ago plunged into unprecedented hardship. More natural than the Greeks expecting an “amendment” to the agreement is for some corrections to be made to these incorrect calculations.
However, the door has been closed by none other than Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, who put an end to any hopes that Brussels would look at the Greek case again. “Your program is OK,” he said.
So the French president’s visit to Athens could be crucial. At this very moment when the Greek government would welcome a valuable ally who would listen to the Greek government’s plea for an amendment of some terms of the agreement that are pushing the country’s economy into an even deeper end.
Will President Hollande be willing to take up such a role? We will get a hint tomorrow, although Greek analysts point out that any diplomatic initiative on behalf of the French president should not be portrayed as Greece trying to put pressure in order to renegotiate what has already been agreed, as this would negate the efforts of the Samaras government to regain the country’s economic and political credibility.