Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece is not interested in starting an arms race with Turkey, noting that an upgrade of the Hellenic Navy’s fleet through its deal with France was long overdue.
“We bought the frigates at the best price and with the best delivery time,” he said in reply to New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger during a discussion at the Athens Democracy Forum on Thursday, adding that the ships Greece has ordered from France will place the Hellenic Navy “firmly in the digital age” and significantly enhance the country’s deterrent capability.
Asked to specify the mutual assistance clause of the agreement, Mitsotakis said it essentially means that if any of the two countries is attacked, or its territory is challenged, then there is an obligation by the other party to assist.
“This is a strategic partnership which in my mind which goes probably above and beyond the mutual assistance clauses that are currently included in the European treaties. The phrasing is probably slightly stronger but it also signifies the importance that France assigns to the broader region of the eastern Mediterranean,” he told the Forum.
Asked to clarify the difference of this clause with NATO’s Article 5, he said: “Does article 5 apply in the case of an attack by another NATO member? I’m not sure. NATO has never been clear on that issue. My obligation is to defend my country and to form the necessary alliances over and above the security arrangements that we already have.”
Mitsotakis said that Europe, as a continent, needs to “align its economic strength with its geopolitical ambitions,” but European defence autonomy is not rival to NATO but “complimentary.”
He also clarified that the longstanding Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) with the United States will be extended by 5 years and not indefinitely, as Washington preferred.
“We’re about to sign, if everything goes according to plan, a new 5-year mutual defence and cooperation agreement with the United States and this partnership has a lot of value to us and the US,” he said.
A State Department spokesperson told Greek media on Wednesday that Athens and Washington have made “very significant progress” on reaching an agreement on potential updates to the MDCA, including extending the agreement indefinitely from its current annual duration that will help advance peace in the region and shared defense and security goals between the two NATO allies.
Asked whether massive defense spending is wise given the inequalities in Greece which have been magnified by the pandemic and the environmental crises, the prime minister said the contracts signed are long-term, spread over a decade, according to the repayment schedules and are “were fully in line” with the country’s fiscal commitments. “These investments are not at the expense of other priorities,” he said.
“My number one priority is how do we reduce inequalities in this new growth model I’m championing for Greece. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a very complicated neighborhood. I do not intend to enter into an arms race with Turkey and I’m always reaching out a hand of friendship.”
Discussing migration policy, Mitsotakis also pushed back against accusations of pushbacks at Greece’s borders.
“I’m unapologetic about defending our borders…We are defending our sea border but we’re doing it with full respect to human rights….no one has drowned in the Aegean this year and I’m particularly proud of the work that the Coast Guard is doing at saving people at risk,” he said, noting Turkey actively encouraged and facilitated people from crossing into Greece in 2020.
“I see no conflict between vigilantly defending our borders and, yes, intercepting boats at sea, while behaving in a totally humanitarian manner.”
Concerning fears of a new wave of arrivals from Afghanistan, Mitsotakis said Europe has stated that “we will not tolerate, we will not accept the uncontrolled migratory waves that we had to deal with in 2015.”
On the Western Balkans, he said Greece does to support Bulgaria’s resistance in allowing North Macedonia’s EU accession to go ahead.
“We don’t support Bulgaria. We think it’s an unnecessary complication….We need to offer the Western Balkans a very clear European prospective. We need to openly talk about enlargement….the Western Balkans belong in Europe.”
Asked about the German elections, Mitsotakis said his government will “work very well” with whomever becomes Chancellor.