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Economy

Hollande arrives in Athens with anti-austerity message ... for Greece, at least

media French President Francois Hollande (L) and Greek Prime Minister Antonis … Reuters/John Kolesidis

French President François Hollande touched down at Athens airport on Tuesday morning with a message to Greece that they should not face “endless austerity”. The trip comes as his Socialist government debates further cuts to reach budget targets.

“I reject a Europe that would condemn countries to endless austerity," Hollande told the Ta Nea daily in an interview published Monday ahead of a 24-hour journalists’ strike Tuesday.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The government accused striking journalists of trying to make Hollande’s visit disappear.

There will be nationwide anti-austerity protests on Wednesday.

Hollande was received with military honours at Athens airport by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras before heading for a meeting at Samaras’s official residence, the Maximou Mansion.

He will also meet President Carolos Poupoulias and Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the Socialist Party, Pasok, which is in a three-party coalition with Samaras’s right-wing New Democracy.

Hollande, who has argued for a lighter touch on austerity in the European Union, told Ta Nea that Greeks have been asked to make sacrifices that have been “more painful than elsewhere” and “cleaning up public finances is necessary but not sufficient”.

There have been no protests against the visit, in contrast to the demonstrations that greeted Angela Merkel, who has insisted on a tough European line with Greece, last October with banners declaring “Out with the Fourth Reich!”.

Although French banks Crédit Agricole and Société Générale pulled out of Greek units last year, the French presidency stressed in a statement that a majority of French firms have stayed, despite the crisis.

They include Bic, which has a razor factory and its main research and development centre there, cement maker Lafarge and infrastructure and power company Alstom.

While Hollande calls for growth-boosting policies in Europe, his government is discussing further austerity policies at home, following last week’s announcement that it will be unable to meet its target of reducing France’s budget deficit to three per cent of GDP by the end of the year due to lower-than-prediected growth.

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