ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece is seeking help from France, its close ally in the 19-country eurozone, as it seeks to overcome stubborn sticking points in its bailout talks and return to international bond markets later this year.
France's Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Finance Minister Michel Sapin were in Athens Friday for talks, as negotiations with bailout inspectors in the Greek capital continued for a fourth consecutive day.
Cazeneuve met Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and described recent improvements in Greek economy as "spectacular," while Sapin said France was working to keep the International Monetary Fund in the Greek rescue program.
"France is here to facilitate things, to show to everyone and to the institutions that it is time to reach an agreement, that it's time to look to the future," Sapin said.
Greece has been dependent on bailout loans from its partners in the eurozone and the IMF since 2010 and has repeatedly relied on French support to keep negotiations with bailout lenders from collapsing.
In 2014, Greece did manage to stage a one-off return to bond markets with a 3 billion-euro ($3.1 billion) auction of 5-year-bonds, but has since struggled with renewed political uncertainty and high interest rates.
On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis said the country could hold a 2017 "test" auction before the end of the year if current negotiations with rescue lenders are concluded "in the next few weeks" and the European Central Bank accepts Greece in its bond-buying stimulus program.
Bailouts talks for conditions on future payouts have been delayed by a policy rift between the IMF and European lenders, as well reluctance in Athens to make further cuts after years of economic turmoil and recession.
The Tsipras government has seen its ratings plummet in recent opinion polls and is facing a growing wave of strikes and union protests.
The rise of euroskeptic parties across the European Union and elections this year in France and Germany have also rattled Athens.
"Tsipras benefited from the support of French President Francois Hollande as well as former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. Their departure from the scene leaves him with few influential European allies," said respected Greek financial commentator Yannis Palaiologos, author of the book "The 13th Labour of Hercules: Inside the Greek Crisis."
"But no one in Europe is keen to see the Greek crisis being rekindled. Election results in France and Germany could usher in leaders who are equally or more sympathetic to Greece's plight."
Separately, the European Union said Friday it is in contact with the World Bank to look at the issue of a loan to Greece. The World Bank traditionally provides loans for developing nations. Greece has been dependent on bailout loans from its partners in the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund since 2010.
EU Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said the "Greek authorities have signaled that they would like to push ahead with further active labor market policies and one of those avenues would be through approaching the World Bank."
Theodora Tongas and Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Athens and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed. Follow Gatopoulos at http://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and http://twitter.com/ElenaBec