Dear President of France, dear Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
Today is a historic day for Greece and France. Because, along with President Macron, we have decided to upgrade our bilateral defence cooperation, while also expanding the will of our two nations to stand side by side, to offer mutual assistance and act together on all fronts.
The signing of the Agreement on the establishment of a strategic partnership for defence and security cooperation does not only reflect but also reinforces a fact that is known to all: Greece and France have developed a very strong partnership, which essentially transcends their obligations towards each other in the context of the European Union and NATO. Foreign policy and defence cover a major part of this partnership but, in fact, our cooperation is in no way confined to these issues.
The President pointed this out a few days ago in Marseille and shortly thereafter in Athens. Our joint efforts have, in the most suitable manner, cast a spotlight on the challenges posed by the climate crisis to the vulnerable ecosystem of our common sea, the Mediterranean.
Over the years Greece and France, France and Greece, have developed ties penetrated by common values: the faith in freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights. And of course the respect and advocacy of International Law and especially the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
Today’s development seals this common, this consistent path. But it is also an initiative that corresponds to the demands of our times, in our continent. Because today Greece and France take a first, bold step towards European strategic autonomy.
With President Macron we have the same vision on the development of the necessary defence capabilities and the ability of Europe to respond autonomously to the challenges it faces. Therefore, this agreement lays the foundation for an autonomous and powerful Europe of the future. A Europe that -as President Macron pointed out- will be able to defend its interests in its broader neighbourhood, in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Sahel. A Europe that will have the means, the will and the clout, so that it can guarantee peace and progress at a global level. A Europe that will finally align its geopolitical power with its economic prowess.
Within the context of this new strategic partnership between Greece and France, following the acquisition of 24 Rafale fighter jets by the Hellenic Air Force, I announce today that our country will get three new French Belharra frigates for the Hellenic Navy, with the option of getting one more.
My will to equip the Greek fleet with modern French frigates obviously stems from a national incentive, as it shields our country. It also stems from a European incentive, as it reinforces our common defence industry; let me remind you that France has these same frigates. But this choice also has a Euroatlantic character. Because it concerns two partners in the European Union and allies within NATO. A Europe that boosts its defence strengthens the transatlantic alliance itself in the end.
Dear Emmanuel, the connection between our countries cuts across time and the history of European civilisation as well. Because civilisation -as you nicely said- could not exist without the foundation set by ancient Greek thought. “A secret Greece exists in the hearts of all people in the West,” as André Malraux pointed out. But civilisation could not have grown either without the fertile winds of the French Enlightenment.
Last night we met in one of the most important museums of the world, the Louvre, at the inauguration of an exhibition which is precisely dedicated to the close, timeless ties between Greece and France. I think it is especially symbolic that we are signing this important agreement 200 years after the start of the Greek war of independence. A struggle that would not have ended favorably had it not been for the support of France.
The French philhellenes who sailed to the aid of Greece during the Revolution embarked from Marseille. The same place where the first Ionian sailors had arrived in 600 BC. And our ties keep going from strength to strength.
Mr President, we are talking today about frigates. Nonetheless, they are but the descendants of the battleships “Hydra”, “Spetses” and “Psara” that Charilaos Trikoupis ordered from the shipyards of Le Havre. As far back in 1884 a French naval mission under the command of Admiral Laurent Joseph Lejeune participated in the reorganisation of the Greek Navy. He hailed from Amiens, Mr President, like yourself. As regards the Rafale jets, they are the successors of “Aetos”, “Condoras”, “Daedalus” and “Falcon”, the four French Henri Farman ΙΙI planes that formed, in 1912, the first Greek military air squadron. It was an initiative by Eleftherios Venizelos, who picked the names himself.
Mr President, History wants us to be together. Just like geography. Like the Mediterranean and Europe, for which we are building a better future. “To build Europe. That is our mission. That is the mission to which we are summoned by the shadow of the Acropolis” as General Charles de Gaulle said in Athens in 1963. That is the mission that we are proudly honoring today in Paris.
Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): My question is addressed to Prime Minister Mitsotakis. We heard you talk, both here and at the United Nations General Assembly, about the need for European strategic autonomy. Last night, in an interview with ERT, you said that this demand is now an imperative and that the French President’s proposal for the creation of the European Army is now mature. I would like to ask, how close are we to such a thing? Is there a timetable? What further moves are needed for Europe’s strategic autonomy to become reality? Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The debate on European strategic autonomy has already started to become substantive in terms of content. And I think that on the occasion of the French Presidency, in the first half of 2022, we will be able to achieve meaningful progress in that direction.
As I pointed out in the United Nations, Europe is obligated to have the capacity to defend on its own its national and geographical, its supra-European interests. It will be able to do so only if it develops the ability to operate without necessarily requiring NATO or UN assistance, as long as it deems it necessary.
Of course, choices such as the signing of this strategic partnership between Greece and France precisely constitute moves in that direction. Because by strengthening our cooperation on defence, by promoting interoperability, by purchasing European weapon systems, we serve this central, strategic choice. Therefore, it pleases me greatly that, on a bilateral level at least, Greece and France are taking a first step in that direction, paving the road for other European countries who can join a scheme of reinforced defence cooperation, if they opt to do so.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good morning Mr Prime Minister. I would like to ask whether this deal, which is very important on a strategic, diplomatic and defence level, could affect Greek – US relations, which have been very good for many years now, or the relations between Greece and NATO. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The agreement signed today does not in any way antagonize the relationship between Greece and the United States, as reinforcing the Hellenic Armed Forces serves our strategy within the North Atlantic Alliance. Let me remind you that, if all goes well, within the next few weeks Greece will sign a five-year defence agreement with the United States, thus reaffirming the strong framework of cooperation with the US in the field of defence and foreign policy.
We selected the French frigates because this was the final recommendation of the Hellenic Navy, because we determined that in the current circumstances this ship more than satisfies the operational capabilities of the Hellenic Armed Forces. And of course I need to add that there are very specific commitments by the French side regarding the delivery of the ships within specific timetables set by the Hellenic Navy.
Of course, despite the fact that these ships will be constructed in French shipyards, there is always the possibility to have sizable added value coming from the Greek side, so that the Greek defence industry may contribute to this important purchase.
Consequently, under no circumstances should we view this partnership as a substitute for other relationships. As the French President pointed out, Greece and France have a long shared history and we will keep moving side by side for many decades to come. Greece does not forget -and this is confirmed and validated by today’s agreement- that France stood by its side during the difficult times that we went through in the summer of 2020. And I think that this partnership, the strategic cooperation agreement, is the absolutely logical culmination of the relationship between our two countries, one with great political, historical and cultural background.