By Andrew Callus and Nicholas Vinocur
French President Francois Hollande said on Monday countries including Spain and Greece had paid a heavy price to stay in the euro and it was “up to the Greeks” to decide whether to now remain a part of the single currency.
His comment in an interview with France Inter radio came in reaction to a media report at the weekend that said the German government believed the euro zone would now be able to cope with Greece leaving the euro.
Germany’s economy minister later said Germany wanted Greece to remain in the euro zone and there were no plans to the contrary.
“As for Greece remaining in the euro zone, Greece alone can decide,” Hollande said.
“At this time we should not hypothesize about whether, according to the Greek vote, they would not or would still be a member of the euro zone. The Greeks are free to determine their own destiny.”
The question of Greece’s continued membership in the euro zone has come into focus ahead of the Jan. 25 parliamentary election that left-wing opposition party Syriza, which has promised to end austerity policies if elected, is seen winning.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said in December his party would ask Europe to erase a big portion of its debt.
Hollande, whose Socialist government has criticised Germany’s emphasis on budgetary discipline, said: “Europe cannot continue to be identified by austerity.”