PARIS — "Today is a historic day for Greece and France, because we have decided with President Macron to upgrade our bilateral defence cooperation, while expanding the readiness of our states for solidarity, mutual assistance and joint action in all fields," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday in joint statements with French President Emmanuel Macron on the strategic agreement between Greece and France and the purchase of three Belharra frigates by Greece.
"The signing of the agreement on the establishment of a strategic partnership for cooperation in defence and security not only reflects but reinforces a reality which is known to all, which is that our two countries, Greece and France, have already developed a very strong alliance that goes substantially further than our obligations to each other in the context of the EU and NATO," he added.
"In fact, the areas of foreign and defence policy are an important part but in no way fully exhaust this cooperation … Our joint efforts have highlighted in the most eloquent way the challenges posed by the climate crisis to the sensitive ecosystem of our common sea, the Mediterranean," Mitsotakis underlined.
"Over time, Greece and France, France and Greece have ties that are permeated by common values. Belief in freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and, of course, respect for and protection of international law, and in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said and added: "Today's development comes to consolidate this common prudent course. But it is also an initiative that responds to the demands of the times on our continent. Because today, Greece and France are taking a first bold step towards European strategic autonomy. We have the same vision with President Macron for the development of the necessary defence capabilities and the capabilities of Europe's autonomous response to the challenges it faces."
Mitsotakis also pointed out "the agreement paves the way for an autonomous and strong Europe of the future. A Europe that, as the president said, will be able to defend its interests in its wider neighbourhood, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in the Sahel. A Europe that has the means, the will and the influence to guarantee world peace and progress, a Europe that will finally align its geopolitical power with its economic power."
"And exactly in the context of this new strategic partnership between Greece and France, after the 24 Rafale fighters of the Air Force, I announce that our country is buying three new French Belharra frigates for our navy, with the possibility of procuring another one. My desire to equip the Greek fleet with modern French frigates obviously has a national motive as it defends our country, but it also has a European motive as it strengthens our common defence industry," the prime minister added.
Mitsotakis also noted that this choice has a Euro-Atlantic aspect because it concerns two partners in the EU and two allies in NATO. "And a Europe that strengthens its defences is ultimately strengthening its own transatlantic alliance," he said.
He then underlined that the connection between the two countries stretches back through the centuries but also through the course of European culture, "because, as you so aptly put it, this could not exist without the foundations of ancient Greek thought. But neither could it grow without the fertile wind of French Enlightenment."
Mitsotakis also stressed the special symbolism of "the fact that we are now signing this important agreement 200 years after the start of my country's struggle to become a free state, a struggle that would not have had a happy ending without the support of France."
Asked about Europe's strategic autonomy, the prime minister replied: "The debate on European strategic autonomy has begun to have real content. And on the occasion of the French presidency in the first half of 2022 we will be able to make substantial progress in this direction. As I had the opportunity to emphasise at the United Nations, Europe has an obligation to be able to stand on its own two feet in defending its own national and geographical trans-European interests. And that is something it can only do if it develops the ability to mount operations, if it deems that this is needed, without having to count on the assistance of NATO and the United Nations. And, of course, options such as the conclusion of this alliance of strategic partnership between Greece and France move in precisely this direction. Since, by strengthening our defence cooperation, by promoting interoperability, by purchasing essentially European weapons systems, this is exactly the central strategic choice we are serving and that is why I am very pleased that, bilaterally, Greece and France are taking a first step in this direction, paving the way, obviously, for other European countries to be able to participate in a scheme of enhanced defence cooperation, if they so choose."
Answering another question, the prime minister stressed that the agreement signed on Tuesday does not in any way "compete" with Greece's relationship with the United States, because the strengthening of the Greek armed forces serves the country's overall strategy within the North Atlantic Alliance.
"I would like to remind you that, in all likelihood, Greece will sign a five-year defence agreement with the United States in the coming weeks, thus confirming the framework of cooperation with the United States in the field of defence and foreign policy," Mitsotakis pointed out.
He explained that the French frigates were chosen because that was the final suggestion of the Hellenic Navy and because the ship is considered to fully cover the operational capability requirements of the Greek armed forces.
"Also, of course, I want to add that there are very specific commitments by France for the delivery of these ships within the schedules set by the Greek navy. In addition, there is always, of course, the possibility of significant Greek added value, despite the fact that these ships will be built in French shipyards, so that the Greek defence industry can contribute to this very important purchase," he added.
The prime minister emphasised that the cooperation with France should not, therefore, be seen as in some way "counterbalancing" other relations that the country has. .
"As the president said, Greece and France are coming from afar and will walk together for many decades to come. Greece does not forget that France stood by us during the difficult times of the summer of 2020 and I believe that this strategic cooperation agreement comes as the absolutely logical culmination of a relationship between two countries with great political, historical, cultural depth," Mitsotakis stressed.