KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, the Greek Prime Minister, presented it as a love story. “History … wants us together,” he told Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, in Paris on September 28. “Geography too. He rocked Mr. Macron with stories of Ionian sailors landing in Marseille and French Philhellenes who supported Greece’s war for independence. Mr Macron said Greece was “a civilization which inspired us and allowed us to be ourselves”. Then the two leaders consumed their seduction with what they call a “strategic” defense pact.
The Franco-Greek relationship was forged in a rivalry with Turkey, which clashed last year with Greek warships around Cyprus, and with French ships off Libya. An anti-Turkey bloc, comprising France, Greece, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, has gradually been formed. Mr. Mitsotakis, eager to obtain the support of France and to strengthen his own armed forces, had already agreed to buy 18 Rafale fighter jets from France in January, at a cost of 2.5 billion euros ( $ 2.9 billion), and six more in September. From now on, it will also buy three new French frigates, with the option of one more.
This is a boon for the Greek navy, which has only 13 aging frigates against the new Turkish fleet of 16. It is also a welcome consolation prize for Naval Group, the majority-owned French arms company. State that Australia has diverted from a lucrative market. submarine contract on September 15 as part of its AUKUS pact with America and Great Britain. Naval Group is building the new frigates in Brittany; Greece is expected to take delivery of its first in 2025.
However, both parties were keen to show that it was not a simple arms contract. “This strengthens (…) our strategic autonomy and our European sovereignty,” Macron said. Mr Mitsotakis acknowledged that this was the “first daring step towards European strategic autonomy”. Mr Macron has long liked such language – often irritating to his Eastern European allies, who see it as hostile to America – but it has a particular resonance afterwards. AUKUS. French officials described the Anglophone pact as a demonstration of the unreliability of the United States and a wake-up call for Europeans to collaborate more on defense issues.
To this end, the new agreement also contains a salient element which is missing from AUKUS: a mutual defense clause. France and Greece are already obliged to support each other in the event of an attack, by article five of the NATOof the Charter and the more obscure Article 42.7 of the EUof the Lisbon Treaty. In particular, Mitsotakis said the partnership “now goes beyond” these obligations. The decision to formalize a separate bilateral alliance suggests that Mr Macron and Mr Mitsotakis fear that in the event of a serious crisis in the Mediterranean, Turkey will block NATO inside.
The idea of a mutual defense clause more robust than article five, which only obliges an ally to take “such measures as it deems necessary”– is not without precedent. France did the same with Germany in the 2019 Aachen Treaty. The Anglo-French Lancaster House Treaty of 2010 also involves large-scale nuclear safeguards.
But such bilateral deals are bad news for NATOsays Wess Mitchell, a former U.S. State Department official who co-chaired a think tank for the alliance last year. The new pact “will be seen in NATO and in particular by the eastern members of the alliance as implicitly undermining article five, ”he said. Others, like Poland, can be encouraged to seek their own ad hoc guarantees from America.
Moreover, despite the rhetoric of European sovereignty and autonomy, the increasingly close alignment of France and Greece reflects the EUits divisions more than its cohesion; it does not involve, after all, the rest of the EU. In recent years, both countries have become frustrated with the bloc’s reluctance to put more pressure on Turkey. Germany, in particular, with its large Turkish diaspora and trade ties, has been quick to water down such measures.
Germany also sells advanced diesel-electric submarines to the Turkish Navy. Later in the decade, a very European competition will therefore be played out in the Mediterranean: the most beautiful French frigates track down the best German submarines. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Paris Philhellenic”