ATHENS, Greece (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron kicked off his first official visit to Greece on Thursday with a call for concerted efforts to tackle climate change, after Hurricane Irma slammed into the northern Caribbean with deadly force.
Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record, has affected French, British and Dutch Caribbean territories.
“All of France is grief-stricken by the many victims yesterday from the hurricane,” Macron said during statements alongside Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, noting the final death toll from the disaster still wasn’t known.
But he said, “our sentiments are frank only when what we say is backed by action. When what we say after such a disaster is followed up with actions that lead us to (its) causes.”
Referring to similar comments made by Pavlopoulos regarding global warming and climate change, Macron said the planet’s situation must be stabilized.
“All the decisions we will take from now on at a European level and an international level must lead us to combating global warming so we can avoid such natural disasters in the future,” he said.
Macron was at the start of a two-day visit to Greece, where he was expected to outline his vision for the future of the European Union and discuss Greece’s financial crisis.
Greece considers France a vital ally and counterweight to fiscally hawkish Germany in its efforts to ease the stringent terms of its international bailouts. The country has relied on international rescue loans since 2010, and in return has seen its economy put under strict supervision by its creditors. Successive governments have had to enforce radical fiscal and structural reforms, including pension cuts and repeated tax hikes, in order to qualify for the loans.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos hailed the visit as a sign that Greece had finally turned the page and had emerged from its deep financial crisis.
The future of the European Union will top the agenda of talks in Athens, Tzanakopoulos said, adding that Macron’s choice of starting “the discussion for the future of Europe” during a visit to Greece “shows that we are at the end of a difficult course.”
Talks during the visit of Macron, who arrived with a sizeable delegation of French business leaders, will also focus on French investments in Greece, and the progress of Greece’s reforms as part of its bailout, which officially ends in mid-2018.
Speaking alongside Macron, Pavlopoulos thanked the French president for his country’s role in helping Greece during its financial crisis.
“Greece, all of us, warmly thank you — France and you personally — for your great contribution, your help, at a crucial time in the summer of 2015 for Greece remaining in the European Union and the eurozone,” Pavlopoulos said.
Wracked by political and financial turmoil in 2015, Greece came to the brink of being forced out of the eurozone, potentially endangering its place in the EU. France was seen as having played a key role in negotiations to keep Greece within the 28-nation bloc.
Pavlopoulos noted Greece continued to stick by the commitments it made under its international bailouts, and was now looking to its creditors to also uphold their end of the agreement, specifically concerning providing some form of debt relief for the country.
“Greece … will continue to fulfil its obligations. What we agreed to do, we will do,” Pavlopoulos told Macron.
“But Greece expects …. with the recognition that there are mistakes on both sides for what happened, for this deep crisis, it is expecting the fulfillment of the obligations of our partners too, especially on a big issue for Greece … the viability of Greek public debt.”
Security was tight for the French president’s visit, with Greek authorities banning protests through a large part of central Athens and mobilizing more than 2,000 police on the capital’s streets.
Later Thursday, Macron was to hold talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before delivering an evening speech at the Pnyx, a symbol of ancient Athenian democracy.