Hollande Says Greece’s Referendum Will Determine Euro Membership

President Francois Hollande speaks to reporters today
French president Francois Hollande speaks to the press during a statement on the Grece situation, at the Elysee palace, on June 29, in Paris. Photographer: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

French President Francois Hollande told Greek voters that their referendum on the bailout package will determine whether their country remains in the euro zone.

Hollande, speaking in Paris on Monday after an emergency meeting with his ministers on Greece, stressed that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to consult the Greek people in a referendum is the country’s sovereign choice.

“It’s democracy,” Hollande told reporters. “What’s at stake is serious. It’s about knowing if the Greek people want to stay in the euro zone. That is their place, in my eyes, but it’s up to them to decide. Or they take the risk of leaving.”

The remarks suggest that European policy makers are framing the July 5 referendum as an in-or-out vote on euro membership rather than on the terms of rescue aid. The Greek government plans to ask voters whether they accept the latest proposal by creditors on implementing budget cuts in return for more financial aid, and advocates a “no” vote.

“I regret this choice because we were very close to an agreement,” Hollande said. “Several hours remain before the negotiations are definitively over, notably on an extension of an aid program.”

Hollande’s strategy echoes that deployed in November 2011 by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel when then-Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou also surprised his European partners by floating the idea of a referendum in similar circumstances. Papandreou withdrew his referendum plan and was ousted as premier within days.

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