NEWS

France looks for closer ties with Greece

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and French President Nicolas Sarkozy explored ways to make the economic cooperation between Greece and France even closer and broached the idea of heading up a Mediterranean firefighting service to tackle wildfires, during their meeting in Paris yesterday. France is already the biggest investor and foreign employer in Greece but the possibility of building on these economic ties was at the center of the talks. «Greece is a strategic partner in the economy, defense and the prospect of European integration,» said Sarkozy, who was elected in May, as he welcomed Karamanlis at the Elysee Palace. The two leaders discussed the possibility of Greece buying French-made fighter jets and navy frigates in the future but Karamanlis indicated that his government would not make any purchases before the next general election. Sarkozy suggested that France and Greece, both troubled by forest fires this summer, should help create a common firefighting agency. The French president suggested that all the European countries that are singed by wildfires every summer should cooperate to create a well-equipped force that could respond to the blazes. Sarkozy has also suggested the creation of a Mediterranean Union and said the common fire service was an example of how the organization of Mediterranean countries could work together. Karamanlis seemed receptive to the idea of the creation of such a union but said that it should operate within the existing structure of the European Union. Sarkozy said that the EU should speed up efforts to create a common defense policy and cited Greece as having an important role to play due to its geographical position and its defense spending. Sarkozy, known to be skeptical of Turkey’s potential membership in the EU, said that any decisions on Ankara’s bid should be made based on the thought of what the EU will be like in 20 years’ time. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis also met with her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner during yesterday’s visit.