Greece and France to sign mutual defense pact and frigate deal on Tuesday

POLITICO – France and Greece will sign a major defense deal on Tuesday – a signal that Paris is strengthening military ties in Europe after a diplomatic fall-out with Australia and the United States over a canceled submarine contract.

The new deal will include commitments from Greece to purchase around € 5 billion of French warships and fighter jets, as well as a mutual defense assistance clause, three officials say of the Greek government.

The partnership is taking place in the shadow of a diplomatic coup for France. Almost two weeks ago, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom unveiled a surprise military pact, known as AUKUS, which prompted Canberra to tear up a $ 50 billion undersea deal. euros with Paris.

The announcement angered France, which urged its European neighbors to focus on building their own defensive capabilities in response.

Tuesday’s pact will help push that agenda forward, giving the French defense industry a much needed boost and advancing French President Emmanuel Macron’s willingness to lead Europe’s military efforts.

“There is a link with what happened with AUKUS,” said Faithon Karaiosifidis, defense expert and editor of the Greek magazine Flight. “France is taking everything in Greece and can present itself by presenting this agreement on defense cooperation and cohesion as the basis for European defense integration and the start of a European army.”

The Greek Navy had long sought to modernize its fleet by purchasing new frigates and modernizing existing ones.

The need became more acute last year, as Greece faced growing tensions with Turkey in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. The two sides traded daily spades and moved closer to a full-fledged clash than they had in 25 years.

In recent months, the Greek Navy has received offers from six countries, including France, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. France’s proposal was the most expensive.

As the Navy reviewed the proposals, France has submitted an improved offer in recent days, although it was still more expensive than the other offers, an official said.

“This is definitely a political decision, not a decision by the Greek navy,” Karaiosifidis said. “The cornerstone of the agreement is the defense aid clause. You couldn’t imagine something similar coming from other countries.

The deal will likely include six warships – three frigates and three corvettes which are expected to start arriving in 2025 – with the option of two or three more ships in the future, officials said. Greece is also expected to buy six more Rafale fighter jets.

The content of the mutual defense clause was not available on Monday, leaving open the big question of whether or how France will commit to supporting Greece if tensions with Turkey resume.

Some defense experts have also expressed concern over whether this deal would include Greek commitments to support French operations abroad, such as its counterterrorism efforts in Mali.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, returning from the UN General Assembly in New York, stopped in France on Monday to meet with Macron.

And on Tuesday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos will be in Paris, where they are expected to sign the deal, according to government officials.

Greece has yet to officially confirm the deal, with government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou calling for “a little patience”.

The deal is the latest step in a military build-up for Greece, spurred by its standoff with Turkey.

Last January, Athens placed an order for 18 French Rafale fighter jets, including 12 used, for an amount of 2.5 billion euros. In September, Mitsotakis announced its intention to acquire six additional aircraft.

The shopping spree was a notable turnaround for Athens, which repeatedly slashed its defense budget after the 2008 financial crisis. In 2018, the country’s military budget was just $ 3.75 billion. euros, compared to 7.24 billion euros in 2008.

Yet even before the latest deals Greece was spending 2.28% of its GDP on defense, well above the EU average of 1.2% and near the top among NATO members.

And between 2019 and 2020, Athens quintupled its military spending. However, the country’s GDP has shrunk by a quarter over the past decade.

Greek officials said the United States, seen as the other top bidder for the latest warship and fighter jet contract, would not raise any issues with Tuesday’s deal following the fallout from AUKUS.

Washington also did not come away empty-handed when it comes to the Greek military deals. Athens will soon sign a five-year extension of a defense cooperation agreement with the United States, avoiding the typical one-year renewal cycle.

READ MORE: Dendias: Turkey is now beyond logic, Greece must spread its wings.

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