France’s president has said Europeans must stop being “so naive” about the need to defend themselves as he celebrated the signing of a deal to sell frigates to Greece.
Emmanuel Macron’s comments come in the wake of French fury over the pact between the US, Australia and the UK which led to France losing a multi-billion euro submarine deal.
Mr Macron has made no secret of his desire to see the EU strengthen its military capability and reiterated on Tuesday European countries must make themselves “respected” and boost the continent’s defence plans.
The deal confirms Greece will buy three frigates, with the option of a fourth, having already agreed to purchase 24 French-made Dessault Rafale fighter jets – making it the first EU country to buy the planes.
The agreement for the Belharra FDI-type frigates was struck despite competition from the American group Lockheed Martin, according to press reports.
Mr Macron said: “It contributes to European security, to the strengthening of Europe’s strategic autonomy and sovereignty, and thus to international peace and security.”
The unprecedented diplomatic crisis with the US, Australia and Britain earlier this month, which led to France recalling its ambassadors to the Washington and Canberra, has caused much soul-searching in Paris over its traditional alliances.
Despite France, the US and the UK being part of NATO, analysts said that the fall-out put the relationship between the UN security council permanent members and nuclear powers in a degree of jeopardy.
It comes after a period during which some European countries have expressed concern at a weaker commitment from the US to European security than in previous decades.
While not in NATO, Australia is already part of the ‘five eyes’ security pact with the UK, US, and also Canada and New Zealand, under which the countries agree to share intelligence.
It has been reported that France was prevented from joining ‘five eyes’ during the Obama administration, but France does cooperate with the group on issues like China, Russia and North Korea.
Yet, on Tuesday, Mr Macron seized the opportunity to urge for more European autonomy as Washington increasingly reorientates its interests towards China and the Indo-Pacific.
He said: “The Europeans must stop being naive. When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden (their stance), we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things, but protecting ourselves.
“This isn’t an alternative to the United States alliance. It’s not a substitution, but to take responsibility of the European pillar within NATO and draw the conclusions that we are asked to take care of our own protection.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took part in a news conference about the France/Greece arms sale with Mr Macron, added the €3bn (£2.5bn) deal “opens the door to the Europe of tomorrow that is strong and autonomous, capable of defending its interests”.
In 2020, tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated over gas reserves and maritime rights – the latest in a series of spats between Athens and its neighbour, which has been a key member of NATO in conflicts of the past 30 years and was, at one time, keen to seek EU membership.
Asked whether the deal risked aggravating relations in the eastern Mediterranean, Mr Macron, alluding to the tensions with the Turks, said: “I don’t get the feeling that in the summer of 2020 it was Greece that was bellicose in the eastern Mediterranean.
“As Europeans it is our duty to show solidarity with members states. It is legitimate that we commit to equipping it so it can ensure its territorial integrity is respected and that we commit to cooperating to protect it in case of intrusions, attacks or aggressions.”
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