The prime minister of Greece has embarked on the second leg of his eurozone charm offensive, holding talks with the French president in Paris. Athens is pushing for more flexible austerity targets.
Greek premier Antonis Samaras on Saturday petitioned French President Francois Hollande to help loosen the conditions of Athens' international bailout package, a day after receiving a cool response to his pleas in Berlin.
Greece is currently required to cut 11.5 billion euros ($14.3 billion) from its budget, with the goal of reducing its deficit to three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2014. In return, Athens is to receive a 31.5-billion-euro tranche of bailout money.
But in the face of a 23-percent unemployment rate and a fifth consecutive year of economic recession, Samaras has said that Greece needs "a bit of air to breathe." The Greek premier has called for flexibility in implementing austerity targets, thereby providing a window for Athens to stimulate the nation's flagging economy.
Although Hollande said Greece "will remain in the eurozone," he indicated that Athens had to demonstrate its commitment to reform before receiving any kind of reprieve from austerity.
"Greece is in the eurozone and Greece must stay in the eurozone, but it still has to demonstrate the credibility of its program and the willingness of its leaders to go the whole way, while doing it in a way that is bearable for the population," Hollande told reporters after meeting with Samaras.
Cool response in Berlin
Samaras visited Berlin on Friday, where he sought to win German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for an extension of Greece's austerity targets.
While Merkel said she "wants Greece to remain a part of the eurozone," the chancellor refrained from making any direct comments about whether or not Athens' bailout conditions should be loosened.
Instead, Merkel told reporters in Berlin that the eurozone should wait for the so-called Troika to issue its report on Greece's progress toward fiscal reform before making any major decisions. The European Union, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are expected to publish that report in September.
Samaras said that the Troika's report would "signal that the (Greek) government will very quickly produce results."
Cracks in Merkel's coalition
But Merkel's coalition partners have expressed growing skepticism that Greece can turn its economy around in time. The general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said that Greece would inevitably revert back to its old drachma currency.
"It's my conviction that there's no way around a Greek exit from the eurozone," Alexander Dobrindt told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Dobrindt said that Greece would likely drop the euro by 2013 and that there would have to be "a Marshall Plan for the economic reconstruction of the country."
"When Greece has suitably improved its competitiveness, there should be an option for it to return to the euro," Dobrindt added.
slk/tj (AFP, dpa)