France ‘determined’ to prevent ‘Grexit’, says prime minister

Left and right at loggerheads in National Assembly over Greek crisis

French prime minister Manuel Valls delivers a government statement on Greece at the National Assembly in Paris. France would do all it could to keep Greece in the euro zone, he said on Wednesday. Photograph: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

French prime minister Manuel Valls delivers a government statement on Greece at the National Assembly in Paris. France would do all it could to keep Greece in the euro zone, he said on Wednesday. Photograph: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

 

French prime minister Manuel Valls fervently opposes the expulsion of Greece from the euro zone and says that rescheduling or writing down Greek debt must not be a “taboo subject”. Mr Valls outlined his government’s position in a debate in the National Assembly during which he and left-wing leaders condemned the right’s eagerness to precipitate a “Grexit”. The right criticised Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras as well as French president François Hollande’s handling of the crisis.

Europe would be seriously damaged by a “Grexit,” Mr Valls argued. “We must reject a Europe of resentment, of punishment and humiliation. A Europe where anti-Greek sentiment would grow in some places, anti-German sentiment in others; a Europe where the weakest would be left to fend for themselves.”

The French leader alluded to historic and cultural ties between Greece and France. “Greece is a French passion,” Mr Valls said, reminding the assembly that the Greek goddess Europa gave her name to the continent.

Nor could Europe turn her back on Greece for geostrategic and geopolitical reasons, which included Greece’s proximity to Turkey and “the ever fragile Balkans” and ties to Russia and the orthodox world at a time of tension in the east. “Greece is, with Italy, one of the countries most exposed to the massive influx of immigrants,” Mr Valls said. “A Nato member, Greece is in the European frontline opposite a Middle East in flames.”

France’s relationship with Germany has been tested by the Greek saga and French commentators say Mr Hollande would side with Berlin if forced to choose between Greece and Germany.

France and Germany “have a duty to rise to the occasion”, Mr Valls said. “Of course, each may have sensitivities, in particular regarding public opinion, but the strength of this relationship is to know how to go forward together.”

An agreement with Greece was almost concluded two weeks ago, Mr Valls said. “The foundations have been laid. An accord is within reach.” He said economic reform, EU investment and addressing Greek debt were the keys to an agreement. “There is not, and cannot be, any taboo subject. It is essential to establish a bearable trajectory for Greek debt [repayment] in coming years. This is an indispensable means to advancing towards a lasting solution to the crisis.”

The ecologist deputy François de Rugy noted: “There is not a single economist who believes the absurd situation in which successive loans serve only to finance the reimbursement of the debt they are generating is viable.” Mr de Rugy mentioned a plan put forward by the former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who advocates cutting financial aid to Greece in exchange for a substantial write-down and rescheduling.

Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, the leader of a small left-wing party, noted that a statue of Athena stands before the National Assembly, while a huge tapestry of Plato and Aristotle adorns the debating chamber.If Greece left the single currency, Mr Schwartzenberg warned, “it would seem to validate the [extreme right-wing] National Front, which favours the dismantling of the euro zone”.

The communist deputy André Chassaigne said it was “unbearable to see Mario Draghi and the ECB so inflexible, when the president of the ECB was in charge of Goldman Sachs in 2006 and helped fake accounts for the Greek state so it could enter the euro.”

“I’ve heard a lot of moralising and sorcerers’ apprentices these last few days,” said Bruno Le Roux, the leader of the socialist group. “Official voices, advocating, pleading for, encouraging a Greek exit . . . I even heard them speak of ‘an exit without drama’,” Mr Le Roux added, referring to the conservative presidential hopeful Alain Juppé. “They’re playing with fire.”

Speaking on behalf of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party, Pierre Lequiller called Alexis Tsipras “irresponsible” and said it was “high time for France to stop shilly-shallying and weigh in behind Mrs Merkel”. Mr Lequiller accused Mr Hollande of “burying his head in the sand” like an ostrich.