Macron in Athens: symbolism over substance
The most memorable thing about Emmanuel Macron's visit to Athens may end up being the image of him speaking at night in front of a lit Acropolis. When summaries of his speech emphasise that he spoke on Pnyx hill where the Greek assembly met since the 5th Century BC, one suspects the speech was more about symbolism than content. Macron said he would propose a six-month period of public debate on the future of Europe in the first half of 2018. According to Greek Reporter
"... His attack on the existing institutions was the furthest any pro-European politician has ever traveled on the road of criticism. But there was no tangible plan presented for his so-called “road map” to a deeper and more democratic (European) union in his speech. ..."
Earlier in the day, Macron had held a joint press conference with Alexis Tsipras, where he praised the Greek government's efforts to reform and get out of the crisis. Both leaders agreed on the need to carry out democratising reforms of the EU structures. Macron also said that France is ready to invest in Greece, and he underscored that by travelling with an entourage of 40 French business leaders, writes Macropolis.
The only bit of additional substance reported by Associated Press from the 50-minute speech at Phyx was Macron's criticism of IMF participation in the Greek programmes, and Germany's insistence in involving it to enforce austerity measures. He said the ESM should take the lead role in eurozone financial rescues instead, as if a German-led ESM would be any less brutal an enforcer of austerity without what has in fact been a moderating influence by the IMF, all things considered. At the joint press conference, he also blamed the IMF for lack of progress in the Greek program review
“The IMF’s role in the end of these talks must be in good faith and without adding further conditionality ... We should not exhaust our ministers and officials with nights and weeks of talks about the (Greek) growth rate over the next 20-25 years down to the decimal point”
Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos also expressed his preference for replacing the IMF with an institution with a European mentality and an understanding of the euro's special features. Presumably he meant the ESM by that.