ATHENS -- "It is an agreement that upgrades the cooperation between the two countries in the fields of defence and security and of foreign policy overall," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday during a parliament debate on the "Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Hellenic Republic and the Government of the French Republic on the establishment of a strategic partnership for cooperation in defence and security."
"This historic text is put to parliament for consideration, making today's debate a historic debate as its ratification means the protection of Greece, the strengthening of the south European part of the agreement,. as well as the first effort for Europe's strategic autonomy," underlined the premier, adding that "for the first time there is provision for a clear and unequivocal clause of defence assistance in the case of an attack by a third party on one of the two countries and we all are aware who is threatening with casus belli our region".
"The three Belharra frigates were an ardent desire of our navy and now Greece will have surface ships worthy of our Greek captains for the next 30 years," the prime minister said.
"The first Rafale [fighter aircraft] will arrive in Tanagra before the end of the year. In addition, there are agreements with Egypt and Italy on maritime zones, there is also an agreement with the United Arab Emirates with a corresponding mutual defence clause, relations with Israel and the extension of the defence agreement with the United States for the next five years," he said.
Mitsotakis described as "very important" the "Euro-Atlantic dimension of the agreement, but also the strengthening of the European framework" as "this agreement is fully compatible with the Franco-German Aachen agreement".
"At the same time, a single European position is being established in the Mediterranean," he said, explaining that these were all proof of a strong, autonomous European presence in the future.
"I share Macron's view that we Europeans should stop greeting with naivety the tectonic changes in the geopolitical arena that are happening around us," he added.
"All citizens understand the importance of the Greek-French Agreement, which provides for armed assistance from the strongest military force in the EU, the only one that has nuclear weapons in the Union," he underlined.
The prime minister also explained that "the price of frigates does not exceed our budgetary capabilities, as we took advantage of the situation to negotiate hard. Their repayment is extended over time, but also the delivery time is very important as the agreement with Greece will precede, finally, the orders placed by the French Navy."
"There is no defence without a strong economy to finance it," the prime minister said, adding, "but also no economy without a strong defence and foreign policy to support it."
The prime minister also revealed that "similar armament programmes are underway for the army as our country has abandoned the foolish doctrine of "we will chance it with our neighbours, without equipping ourselves. The first new frigate will sail into the port of Salamina in 2025."
"The agreement exceeds this government's term and is a legacy for the future of the country," Prime Minister Mitsotakis said addressing parliament on Thursday.
"Consequently, every 'no' that is heard today in parliament will be a 'no' to the will of the citizens and the armed forces, which said a proud 'yes' to the agreement with France'," underlined Mitsotakis addressing the leader of main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance party, Alexis Tsipras, and his MPs, adding that he had been informed of their negative stance and calling on them to reconsider.
The debate in the Plenary Session of the Parliament on the "Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Hellenic Republic and the Government of the French Republic on the establishment of a strategic partnership for cooperation in defense and security" started on Thursday, at 10:30 am.
The debate started with the positions of the rapporteurs and the special speakers of the parties. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will then address the Parliament followed by main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader, Alexis Tsipras, Movement for Change (KINAL) leader, Fofi Gennimata, the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (KKE), Dimitris Koutsoumbas, the leader of Elliniki Lysi, Kyriakos Velopoulos and the general secretary of Mera25, Yanis Varoufakis.
The prime minister and the political leaders, if they wish, will have the chance to speak again. One deputy from each parliamentary group will also address the parliament as well as Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
The debate is expected to end late in the afternoon and the roll-call vote will begin.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed the deal with French President Emmanuel Macron during a Sept. 28 visit to Paris, during which Greece also announced it would be buying three French frigates for the Greek navy.
The purchase and defense deal come at a time of generally increased tension between Greece and its fellow NATO member and neighbor Turkey over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Thursday's parliamentary debate and vote are for the defense pact only, not the purchase of the warships. The deal is expected to be ratified as the governing conservatives have a comfortable majority in parliament.
Regional rivals Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades over a series of disputes, including the delineation of the continental shelf, territorial rights in the Aegean Sea, aviation and maritime boundaries and the demarcation of Exclusive Economic Zones — areas where each country has exclusive rights to the exploitation of resources — in the Mediterranean.
Greece's government announced last year it would be overhauling its military, including the hiring of personnel and a major military procurement program that has already seen the country buying 18 French Rafale fighter jets.
The defense deal with France includes a mutual assistance clause, which states that the two sides will come to each other's aid “with all appropriate means at their disposal, and if necessary with the use of armed force, if they jointly ascertain that an armed attack is taking place against the territory of one of the two.”
The deal also includes a provision for Greek participation in French-led military operations such as those it has conducted in the Sahel region of Africa.
Mitsotakis said last week that the mutual assistance clause “essentially says that if any of the countries is attacked, if its territory is challenged, its sovereignty is challenged, then there is an obligation by the other party to assist it.”
Speaking at an Athens Democracy Forum conference, Mitsotakis had said that “this is a strategic partnership which in my mind goes above and beyond the mutual assistance clauses that are currently included in the European treaties.”
The idea of collective defense is a principal tenet of NATO, of which both Greece and France are members, as is Turkey. Article 5 of the alliance's treaty stipulates that an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on all.
“Does Article 5 apply in the case of an attack by a NATO member? I'm not sure NATO has ever been very clear on that issue,” Mitsotakis had said when asked during the conference why Greece needed an extra alliance agreement. “My obligation is to defend my country and to form the necessary alliances over and above the security arrangements that we already have.”