France has pledged to help Greece's new government as it seeks a better deal with its international creditors. The pledge came during a meeting between Greece's new finance minister and his French counterpart in Paris.
Deutsche Welle, 1 Feb 2015
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin (pictured above right) told a joint news conference with visiting Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (above left) on Sunday that France's Socialist government was prepared to help the new left-wing-led government in Athens to negotiate a new agreement with its trio of creditors, the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund.
"France is more than prepared to support Greece," Sapin said, before calling for a "new contract between Greece and its partners."
Sapin also expressed understanding for the new Syriza-led government's concern about the level of debt Greece had taken on, as part of its 240-billion euro ($270 billion) bailout.
"Yes, debt is an issue, among others," Sapin conceded to reporters.
For his part, Varoufakis insisted that Greece did want to pay back what it owes its creditors, playing down previous talk from the new Greek prime minister in particular about seeking debt-forgiveness from the troika.
Such talk had sparked serious concerns in many European countries, so much so that German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out the possibility in a interview published in the Saturday edition of the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.
In Paris, on Sunday, Varoufakis reiterated that Athens wanted a deal with new terms, which would allow Greece's economy to grow. He also repeated a statement first reported on Friday in which he ruled out negotiating this deal with the troika as pointless, as they had imposed the strict terms of the current agreement.
Going 'cold turkey'
Varoufakis also ruled out accepting a new tranche of debt from the current bailout, arguing that Greece had become addicted to indebtedness and that it was time to go "cold turkey."
"We were elected to put an end to the addiction," he said.
Varoufakis said he was eager to get a new deal done "by the end of May."
His meeting with Sapin was just the start of his part of a Greek charm offensive that he is spearheading along with new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, aimed at easing the tension with other EU member states and the European Commission and ECB after the rhetoric heated up over the past few days. Varoufakis' next stop is London on Monday, before heading to Rome on Tuesday.
Conspicuously absent from his current itinerary is Berlin, the capital of the EU's biggest economy, as well as Frankfurt, the seat of the ECB. "I'm really eager to go to Berlin... Madrid, Frankfurt," he stressed, noting that the diplomatic efforts were just starting.
Tsipras calls Juncker
Prime Minister Tsipras began his part of the charm offensive using the telephone on the weekend.
Sources close to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Sunday that Tsipras called Juncker on Saturday seeking direct talks. According to the DPA news agency, the discussion "ran smoothly" and ended with an agreement to hold talks on Wednesday - when Tsipras is also to meet with President Francois Hollande in Paris.
pfd/bk (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)