French President Francois Hollande has urged Greece to follow through with reforms demanded by international lenders,
Hollande told Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Paris on Saturday that debt-burdened Greece must stay in the eurozone, but first needed to prove it is determined to cut its budget deficit.
“Greece is in the eurozone and Greece must stay in the eurozone,” Hollande said at a joint news conference with Samaras at the Elysee palace.
“But it still has to demonstrate the credibility of its programme and the willingness of its leaders to go the whole way, while doing it in a way that is bearable for the population.”
Samaras was in Paris on the second leg of a trip after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday to try to win more time for his country to meet a deadline to slash billions of dollars from its budget.
Merkel also stressed that she wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone.
Deeds, not words
Hollande echoed the German leader by saying that the European Union would wait for a report due in October before deciding on any additional help for the country.
That report on Greece’s progress in implementing reforms will be drawn up by auditors sent by the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB).
“The message from Chancellor Merkel in Germany and President Hollande in Paris has been heard loud and clear here,” Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reported from Athens on Saturday.
“They want deeds, not words. And they have outlined, as did the president of the Eurogroup earlier in the week during his visit to Athens, precisely what those deeds should be.
“The three top priorities for Athens: balance the buget, get on board with the privatisation agenda and pass reforms that will make the economy more competitive and bring investments.”
Psaropoulos said there were two different reactions from groups within Greece.
“On the pro-reform side, there are people who are saying that it is time for Greece’s timid politicians to come out from under the influence of vested interests and labour unions and start passing those reforms and truly liberalising the economy,” he said.
“And the radical left Syriza says the government has trapped itself in a dead-end policy of austerity and it is highlighting the fact that the government priority of a two-year extension on its balanced budget deadline has not been discussed openly in Paris and Berlin.”
As part of the $161bn bailout fund from the EU and the IMF, Greece has committed to sweeping reforms and about $14.3bn of cuts in 2013 and 2014, but Samaras is asking for a two-year extension to make the cuts.
Samaras told reporters in Paris that he was confident that Greece would not be ejected from the eurozone.
“I also think that we can achieve our goals and our commitments, reduce deficits, our debt, complete the structural change we have begun,” he said.
The prime minister pledged on Friday to stick to all of Greece’s promises to its international creditors and said that he was not asking for more bailout money, but just “breathing space” to implement the spending cuts and reforms.
“I am sure our plan will soon bear fruit. We will hit our targets,” he said. “We are at the beginning of a new phase in relations between our two countries.”
Ties had become strained between Berlin and Athens as a result of the near three-year eurozone debt crisis.
In the run-up to his trip to Berlin and Paris, Samaras engaged on a media charm offensive, telling papers in Germany and France that a “Grexit”, or Greek exit from the euro, would be catastrophic for Europe.