PARIS — With Turkish warships lingering around Greek islands and seas, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis went to Paris to sign an agreement for the Hellenic Navy to buy warships and a mutual defense pact with France.
He met with French President Emmanuel Macron, the two saying the deal would strengthen cooperation for the security of both countries and that it was a key moment for the defense of the European Union, which doesn't have a military.
The agreement, Mitsotakis told reporters after a joint news conference, opened the door of an “autonomous” European defense, “equal to its economic power,” without explaining why it went beyond their borders.
Macron also said it further sealed the relationship between the countries which he said “transcends the framework of EU and NATO,” the defense alliance to which they belong, reported Kathimerini.
French defense and foreign ministers Florence Parly and Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias were also part of the signing for an agreement for Greece to buy three French-built frigates, with the option of a fourth.
Greece's state-run ERT TV said that it would include the purchase of three Corvettes, smaller warships, as Mitsotakis had overseen building a bigger arsenal as Turkey has returned to further provocations in the seas with plans to hunt for oil and gas around Greek islands as it's doing off Cyprus.
Greece has already bought 18 French Rafale fighter jets and plans to purchase another six under a program to modernize its armed forces amid tensions with Turkey – also a member of NATO but buying Russian missile defense systems.
Mitsotakis told ERT that, “We are heading towards a substantive deepening of the strategic cooperation between Greece and France.”
He wouldn't give details but other Greek media said the deal is worth about 5 billion euros ($5.84 billion) as Greece's economy is showing signs of coming back from lockdowns earlier imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I have no intention to enter an arms race with Turkey,” Mitsotakis added. “But there are key issues of modernizing our military after a decade of (economic) crisis,” referring to Greece needing three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($381.01 billion) that ended Aug. 20, 2018.
Mitsotakis has also asked to brief the Greek parliament at 10:00 on Tuesday, October 5, about the agreement, the prime minister's office announced. Mitsotakis made the request in a letter sent to Parliament President Konstantinos Tassoulas, the announcement said.
Opposition Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Fofi Gennimata was positive over the Greece's acquisition of frigates from France. At the same time, Gennimata asked to be informed about the postponement of the agreement last year.
Speaking to TV OPEN on Tuesday, Gennimata said that "we are always in favour of strengthening cooperation with France and our country's deterrent capacity".
Tensions with its historic regional rival Turkey have increased in recent years over gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and waters between the two countries.
Greece had announced plans to upgrade its fleet, discussing potential frigate purchases with countries including France, the U.S. and Britain.
Greek media said the deal follows an improved French offer after the US company Lockheed was also sweetening its deal terms. They linked the offer with France's loss of a $66 billion deal this month to sell diesel submarines to Australia, which instead chose to acquire nuclear-powered submarines provided by the US, which brought fury against Australia and America from France.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)