ATHENS Feb 19 French President Francois
Hollande used a visit to hard-hit Greece on Tuesday to press his
pro-growth agenda, saying fiscal reform could not be achieved by
He offered to help the twice bailed-out country - in a deep
economic depression - with privatisations, tourism and a public
"We must make sure that growth and jobs come back in
Greece," Hollande said. "We need more growth in Europe. That's
how we'll reach our public deficit reduction goals."
Athens, whose euro zone partners and the International
Monetary Fund unlocked bailout aid in December after a six-month
stalemate, hopes Hollande's one-day visit will spur badly-needed
investments to ease record-high unemployment.
"I didn't come to sell weapons ... we have to show the
Greeks solidarity, support and also confidence that will allow
growth to come back," Hollande said in a joint news conference
with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after talks.
Samaras praised Paris for having helped Greece stay in the
euro zone, despite its debt crisis.
"France has given us vital support over the past few months
to stay in Europe and is supporting us today to exit the
crisis," he said.
Greece's economy has shrunk by about 20 percent since the
recession began in 2008, with its downturn exacerbated by fiscal
austerity demanded by its international lenders to shore up
public finances and attain a primary budget surplus in 2013.
Unemployment hit a euro-area record 27 percent in November.
"Greece should make efforts, it should meet its commitments,
but its efforts have been considerable," said Hollande. "No
people in Europe have undergone such a test, so we must be at
the side of Greece", he added.
Greece's deteriorating economy and fears of a euro zone exit
prompted French banks Credit Agricole and Societe
Generale to sell their Greek units to local peers.
But Hollande said on Tuesday he expected French companies to
return to Greece and bid for state firms being sold as part of
the country's multi-billion euro privatisation plan.
The two leaders also signed an agreement to boost the flow
of French tourists to Greece. Tourism is the country's biggest
money spinner but French visitors were less than 7 percent of
total arrivals last year, half as many as from Germany.
French civil servants are advising Athens on how to reform
its inefficient state machine and how to draw up a national land
registry - a task Athens has failed to complete for decades
despite dozens of millions of euros of aid from the EU.
With Greek journalists on a 24-hour, anti-austerity strike,
Hollande's visit was not getting extensive local coverage.