Paris: French President Francois Hollande on Monday urged Greece to abide by its European commitments, as the spectre of a Greek exit from the eurozone rears its head again.
"The Greeks are free to choose their own destiny. But, having said that, there are certain engagements that have been made and all those must be of course respected," Hollande told French radio.
Hollande`s comments came amid fresh political turmoil in Greece ahead of an election on January 25, with the far-left Syriza party currently leading in the polls.
Over the weekend, the Der Spiegel weekly quoted German government sources as saying that Berlin sees a Greek exit from the eurozone as "almost inevitable" should the radical leftist Syriza party win the snap poll.
Both Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had come to consider that Greece`s departure from the single-currency bloc would be "manageable", the magazine said.
The political turmoil and threat of a "Grexit" that came to be seen as inevitable at the height of the eurozone crisis pushed the value of the single currency to a near nine-year low against the dollar in Asia on Monday.
The euro slumped to $1.1868, the lowest level since March 2006, before recovering to $1.1950 and European stock markets also came under pressure.
"It`s a new year but it`s the same old story... eurozone jitters get markets wobbling again," said Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at London Capital Group.
The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have overseen two massive international bailouts for Greece after its debt crisis nearly brought down the eurozone.German media saw the Spiegel article as an attempt by Merkel and Schaeuble to put pressure on Greeks and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who has vowed to end austerity policies.
Merkel and Schaeuble reportedly believe that the relative strength of other countries on the fringes of the eurozone mean that this time a so-called "Grexit" would be bearable.
"As for Greece staying in the eurozone, it`s for Greece itself to decide," Hollande stressed.
The French president also announced that he would hold talks with Merkel on Sunday "to discuss the future of Europe", with sources close to Hollande`s office saying that the meeting would take place in Strasbourg.
Hollande acknowledged that he and Merkel -- from opposite ends of the political spectrum -- "do not have the same outlook, but we have the same interest: to make Europe stronger, with more solidarity in its choices and more active in its growth policies."
In a wide-ranging, two-hour interview on French radio, Hollande also touched on the crises in Ukraine, Libya, as well as how to kickstart the moribund French economy.
The interview was seen as a bid to put a dreadful 2014 behind him when he dropped to a record low in the opinion polls amid sky-high unemployment, a government collapse and unsavoury revelations about his private life.
Aides to the president say Hollande intends to come out fighting in 2015 with a media blitz and efforts to portray a softer side -- including bringing a three-month-old black labrador puppy to the Elysee Palace.
The strategy appears to be working to a certain extent, with Hollande seeing a slight bump in the opinion polls -- albeit at a low level -- less than two and a half years away from a presidential election.