ATHENS - Greece was now in the final stages of negotiations to conclude the second review, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in joint statements with his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve in Athens on Friday. The Greek premier expressed confidence that a comprehensive agreement that would end the crisis for both Greece and Europe was now closer than ever.
"I am extremely confident that we are closer than ever to concluding, not just a review, but a comprehensive agreement that will simultaneously mark the end of a long crisis for Greece and Europe," he said.
Cazeneuve, on his part, stressed the very close ties between Greece and France and expressed France's complete confidence in Greece, its future and its ability to contribute to the building of Europe in a decisive and useful way. "Greece currently has every prospect for growth and investments, all the reforms are progressing," he said.
France will always be at Greece's side, Cazeneuve added, as it was currently assisting in the completion of the second review. Both Greece and its partners had the necessary will and this would lead to good results and good compromises, he said, adding that the commitments made by all sides for measures to ease Greek debt must be examined at the Eurogroup.
Tsipras urged that priority be given to social rights in Europe, otherwise the entire European project would find itself constantly disputed. "We want a strong and binding pillar of social rights," he said. In this sense, he added, it was very important that the completion of the review will act as a strong message that the beginning of the end for austerity policies was happening in the country where the harshest austerity was imposed.
With Cazeneuve, he said, they agreed that European labour and social rights must be restored in Greece as soon as possible.
As crucial decisions and critical elections loomed in Europe, Tsipras added, its leadership had a responsibility not to let Europe "cross the Rubicon" of the populist far right. "We must identify the causes that give momentum and popular support to an anti-European rhetoric and talk again about the founding values of the EU and the European vision, from which we have drifted," he said.
Asked whether some countries might continue to raise objections to a completion of the review, Tsipras expressed certainty that all sides now understood that a comprehensive agreement for Greece was a win-win proposition that benefited everyone. Greece had met its commitments and was showing signs of recovery and seriousness, as well as having some strong allies in its efforts, he added.
Questioned about the blocking of decisions on Greece's debt by some countries, Cazeneuve said that the aim was to overcome the obstacles through the right compromises, so as to arrive at the right decisions for growth and jobs. Regarding the debt, he said there were tangible results and optimism about the future. "We want the issue of debt restructuring to be handled in a way that is effective, realistic and immediate," Cazeneuve commented, adding that the commitments were being met.
"We have full confidence in the reform process and all the efforts made until now," the French prime minister said, noting that this was not wishful thinking but based on tangible results.
Reforms were continuing and must continue, as was the case in France, while anything done jointly in Europe must aim to boost employment, growth and solidarity, he added.
According to Tsipras, a staff-level agreement before the next Eurogroup on March 20 was "fully achievable" and he noted that the government had reached an honest compromise, under which there would be zero additional austerity if Greece succeeded in meeting fiscal targets.
Equally crucial to the negotiations for the measures in 2019 and beyond, he added, was the issue of growth that must come now, and not in 2019. The current encouraging signs must also be reflected in the real economy, Tsipras said, with priority given to creating jobs and attracting investments. On the refugee crisis, Cazeneuve said France desired solidarity and will express this in the form of substantive cooperation with Greece over the coming months on this issue.
"We want to prove that Europe is protection on the issue of migration also, to protect Europe from the far right and populism," the French premier said. Outlining a social and developmental model for the EU, Cazeneuve told Tsipras that he shared the same ambitions for the EU. "We have common interests, a common purpose and common values," he said.