Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, is applauded by his party lawmakers after his speech during a parliament session in Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
ATHENS — The National Defense Ministry’s bill for the strengthening of the country’s defensive shield, per its title, was approved in a plenary vote on Tuesday night.
It was favored by New Democracy, Movement for Change (KINAL) and Greek Solution. It was rejected by the Communist Party of Greece and MeRA25. SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance voted ‘present’ in the proceedings.
Lawmakers were also debating whether to add six new Rafale fighter jets to an existing order for 18 planes ‒ six of them newly built and 12 that were previously in service in the French air force.
NATO members Greece and Turkey remain at odds over maritime boundaries and mineral exploitation rights in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. A Turkish oil and gas survey in 2020 resulted in a tense naval standoff between the two countries.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said the Greek military needs to modernize following repeated funding cuts during the country’s acute 2010-18 financial crisis.
“There is no armament program that is ‘slightly necessary’ or ‘somewhat necessary’,” Panagiotopoulos told lawmakers Monday during a committee-level debate in parliament.
“All of the armament programs that we have submitted for approval, in one way or another, are absolutely necessary for the armed forces ‒ extremely necessary, urgently necessary.”
Greece’s center-right government has 157 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament, and the proposed procurements are expected to be approved without dissent within the ruling party. The left-wing main-opposition party opposes the additional purchase of French fighter jets.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron finalized the frigate deal last year along with an enhanced defense cooperation agreement between their countries.
Made by France’s Naval Group, two warships are due to be delivered in 2025 and the third the following year, with an option to add a fourth frigate to be ready in 2027.
Mitsotakis: Parliament is called upon to send a message of unity
“The message that the Greek parliament is called upon to send today is a message of unity and national responsibility,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday in Parliament.
“It is the first time that the defence ministry has so quickly prepared programmes for purchasing weapons systems, which are so important. Not only because this was made necessary by the provocations of the neighbours, but also in order to take advantage of the situation. A national decision with an international orientation,” the prime minister, and added: “The national delegation is called upon today to authorise the operators in charge to complete the last details of the important contracts. Their main part concerns the ‘Belharra’ frigates, which come to renew the backbone of the fleet. The surface and the bottom of our seas are completely protected. The new frigates cooperate with the new Rafale fighters and with the ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine helicopters.”
These options are connected, Mitsotakis said, also with the simultaneous supply of heavy-duty torpedoes, while the new frigates will be ready to welcome four more new surface ships, always guided by the suggestions of the Hellenic Navy. “In other words, this is a coherent and well-structured operational plan which extends to all three branches of the armed forces,” the prime minister added.
Referring to the government’s support for society during the current wave of high prices, the prime minister stressed that “the subsidy to the bills of the households, businesses and farmers will continue for as long as necessary.”
“Two billion euros have already been allocated,” he said, adding: “A new increase in the minimum wage will be announced, much higher than the first one. Also, the burden from taxes will continue to decrease as we did with the recent announcement of a reduction of ENFIA [property taxes].”
“I will never allow irresponsible actions that will take the country back and force it to resort to taxes, depriving it of growth. We will not return to deficits and international unreliability,” the prime minister pointed out and added: “Every measure will have the measure of logic and the common interest and will be targeted. The shield of defence is also the shield of the economy. And the economy is also a shield of defence. Prudence and courage must guide us.”
Tsipras: ‘We will vote for the frigates but not give a carte blanche’
Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, head of the SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance, on Tuesday told parliament that his party supports the purchase of the new frigates but is not prepared to give the government “carte blanche” regarding armaments spending.
“No one doubts the importance of increasing the country’s deterrent capacity but it is audacity to wag your finger at us because we won’t give you a carte blanche,” Tsipras said during a debate in parliament on Tuesday to approve defence agreements for new armaments systems.
He noted that the defence of the country cannot “stand unless it serves a concerted foreign and economic policy.”
He also accused the prime minister of using the opposition’s statements and positions out of context in the political debate, while he criticised the government’s policy on dealing with price hikes, saying “it leaves society unprotected”.
As an example of the “stalling tactics” employed, he cited the prime minister’s response to the main opposition’s accusations that the government spent 5.0 billion euros in direct assignments, when Mitsotakis asked whether this included the purchase of Rafale fighter jets.
The prime minister was talking about prudent management “at a time when you voted for seven billion in armaments – seven billion without even one euro going to the defence industry,” Tsipras added.
He also called on the prime minister to not use defence issues for political benefit, criticising a ruling New Democracy video that presented the Rafale aircraft purchases not as a national asset but “with ND’s party emblem”.
KINAL to vote for armaments agreements
Opposition Movement for Change (KINAL) will vote in favour of the eight agreements for the purchase of new armaments (including Belharra frigates, Rafale fighter aircraft and submarine torpedoes), the head of the party’s parliamentary group Mihalis Katrinis said on Tuesday, during the plenary debate. Greece has a legal right to defence and security, he added.
He criticised the government’s policy and handling with respect to armed forces’ armaments contracts, however, saying it should have asked for more in exchange, as well as its foreign policy.
Greece must stop being a “client state”, Katrinis said, and as an ally was “faithful but not to be taken for granted.”
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