Sous le Ciel de Paris – A Promising Agreement is Born

Greek-French relations have deep roots. They were not always smooth and easy. However, the ties between both countries are based on a mutual cultural and historical appreciation. In modern times, this appreciation was shown on the tumultuous night of 24 July 1974, following the fall of the military junta, when the iconic Greek statesman, Konstantinos Karamanlis, landed at Athens Airport to restore democracy. The plane that carried Karamanlis from Paris was provided by the then-President of the French Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Since then, the slogan “Grèce-France-Alliance” depicts the close historical, cultural, and diplomatic relations between the two countries and peoples.

On 28 September 2021, almost half a century later, a landmark defence deal signed by the two countries at the Élysée Palace reaffirming that the Greco-French alliance is stronger than ever. According to Emmanuel Macron, it “strengthens cooperation in the area of security and safeguards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries”. This strategic partnership, besides the Greek purchase of 3+1 French frigates (costing 3bn Euros), includes a mutual defence assistance clause in case of attack against the signatories. 

It is worth mentioning that this is the first time in history that Greece signs a bilateral agreement with a clause of mutual military assistance with one of the great powers. This shows not only the very good relations between the two countries, but also their shared views on a series of political and military issues.

Of course, one should not ignore the diplomatic and geopolitical realities behind this agreement. The discussions lasted for more than 18 months. On one hand, after a decade of military stagnation due to economic crisis, and under the pressure of Turkey’s aggression on land, air, and sea from Evros to the East Mediterranean, Greece felt the pressing need to modernise its military forces.

On the other hand, the launch of AUKUS exasperated France and led President Macron to seek a solution that would soothe impressions and allow the French military industry to recover some of the 34 billion euros lost after the cancellation of the submarines deal with Australia.

The Franco-Greek strategic partnership has dual importance. It touches upon national and wider European interests.

The weaponising of immigrants and refugees at Evros’ borders by Turkey in March 2021, the military standoff of the previous summer, and the violation of the UN Resolutions in Cyprus pushed the Greek government to announce an ambitious armaments programme. This includes, among others, the purchase of 24 French Rafale jets, the current deal for 3+1 Belharra (FDI) frigates, and the possibility of 3+1 Gowind corvettes for the Greek Navy, with a delivery date before 2027. As PM Mitsotakis mentioned, the Paris agreement is not antagonising Greek-American relations. It rather works complementary to the update of the MDCA (Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement), expected to be signed with a five-year duration in mid-October.

The target for the Greeks is clear. The economic crisis and the rapid development of the Turkish military industry changed the balance of power between the two shores of the Aegean in favour of Ankara. The gradual strengthening of the Greek armed forces, accompanied with the French military shield, increases the prospects of deterrence and security in the Southeast borders of the European Union. Furthermore, it satisfies a basic tenet of international relations: si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

The European Union, according to President Macron, should stop being naïve and be ready to defend itself when other powers harden their stance. The Franco-Greek agreement marks one of the first tangible step of the highly-touted EU Strategic Autonomy, and as such, it should be welcomed. On the eve of the French Presidency of the EU, two of the concept’s strongest supporters join forces in an unprecedented act that expands their military and diplomatic links in the wider Mediterranean region and the Sahel; areas in which the US seems to have left space for other powers to grow and feel the gap of its absence. The EU may not be ready to act as one when it comes to confronting its rivals; but having two of its nations lead the way by strengthening cross-continental military cooperation is a clear positive, not a drawback. Additionally, this move does not hinder the capacity of EU nations, or indeed the EEAS, to conduct traditional diplomacy. In other words, the EU has a unique opportunity to surf the wave of American scale-back in the region and increase its imprint as a promising hard-power world actor. This opportunity should be seized without delay.

In a continuously changing global environment, gravitating towards a new international order characterised by revisionist powers and unusual diplomatic and political alliances, Europe should not continue playing a mediating role, promoting only its soft-power. Autocratic regimes and rogue states disregard traditional diplomatic channels and pursue projecting their own power. Eventually, the EU must develop its own, autonomous military capacities and begin speaking with one voice in foreign matters. It is no longer sufficient to be an economic giant, we should be able to protect our sovereignty, defend our interests, and secure our future through reliable, deployable, and effective EU armed forces.