ATHENS (Reuters) - French companies sought to win more business in Greece and to play a part in new Greek projects on Thursday, piggy-backing on French President Emmanuel Macron’s two-day visit to Athens.
Greece sees Macron’s first visit since he came to power in June as a vote of confidence in its economy, which is slowly emerging from a debt crisis that scared off many investors.
Total’s chief executive was among around 40 French business leaders traveling with Macron and told a Greek newspaper he expected Greek parliamentary approval to search for oil off the country’s western coast by the end of the year.
Greece and a consortium made up of Total, Italy’s Edison and Hellenic Petroleum have signed a lease agreement to search for oil and gas in the Ionian Sea.
“We expect ratification of the agreement by Greece’s parliament by the end of the year to start work,” Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne told Ta New newspaper.
Total, encouraged by major gas discoveries off Egypt and Israel, has shown great interest in Mediterranean blocks and is drilling for oil off Cyprus.
And in a consortium with Exxon Mobil and Hellenic Petroleum, Total has expressed interest in exploration at two sites off Crete, prompting Greece to launch a tender.
Separately, France’s Vinci, which holds stakes in two major Greek toll motorways and operates one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges, is considering participating in new concession projects.
The CEO of Vinci’s concessions arm Nicolas Notebaert said in Ta Nea newspaper that the firm had expressed an initial interest in the long-term lease of Egnatia Motorway, a major trade route linking Greece from east to west.
France had supported Athens during talks with its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders in 2015 that almost forced the country out of the euro zone, but in July 2015, Greece signed up to its third international bailout in turn for more austerity.
Under its bailout-mandated privatization scheme, Greece plans to launch a tender for the Egnatia lease later this year.
Vinci and Alstom have also teamed up independently with Greek firms to express an interest in expanding the Athens metro. Vinci representatives are traveling with Macron.
In joint statements with Macron, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said France and Greece also agreed to boost cooperation in new technologies, tourism, infrastructure and defense.
On Friday, the Greek government will sign a memorandum of understanding with France’s state investment bank Bpifrance.
Athens wants to create a state development bank of its own in 2018 to fund infrastructure projects, start-ups, small businesses and export-oriented companies. Foreign development banks have shown an interest in participating in the project, Greek government officials have said.
Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by David Clarke/Mark Potter/Alexander Smith