It is a common assumption among Greeks that France is, perhaps, their country’s oldest ally. This has been vindicated in research that was published some weeks ago, in which Greeks were asked to identify their country’s closest ally: France came first with 70.2%. Now, the presidency of the Council of the European Union has passed on to France for the first semester of 2022. We will therefore attempt to analyze how the French presidency can influence and benefit Greece.
During the press conference for the initiation of the French presidency, President Emmanuel Macron said: “If we were to resume the goal of this presidency (…) I would say that we need to pass from a Europe of interior cooperation to a strong Europe in the world, entirely sovereign, with a liberty of choice and the master of its own destiny.” The French optimism and honest pro-European character of the upcoming French presidency is illustrated in this phrase.
The question that is being asked is: What is at stake for Greece? Undoubtedly, the country will be greatly influenced by the decisions of this ambitious French presidency in a series of fields. Let us focus on three of these: digital governance, migration, and defense and security cooperation.
Digital transition is highlighted as one of the priorities of the French presidency’s program. President Macron aspires to a digital revolution in Europe which will turn the European Union into a digital superpower. For the past two years, Greece has been undergoing its own mini-digital revolution, with Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis showing true progress in the digitalization process, making the lives of millions of Greeks easier every day. Greece should be deeply involved in the EU presidency’s priority on digital transition and combine its impressive momentum with real European support. For example, Greece’s digital progress comes hand in hand with some very new threats. Greece might be somehow more vulnerable since its profound digitalization will make the country a target for malicious hacking attacks. Data protection and cyber security development, which are also highlighted as high priorities for the French presidency, may as well provide Greece with the necessary know-how to protect its data. Overall, through cooperation with the European Union, Greece can ensure that it is well-prepared to efficiently counter any possible future attacks.
Migration is another important field. During his speech, President Macron announced his intentions to propose a reform of the Schengen zone. More specifically, he underlined that “in order to avoid that the right to asylum, which was invented in Europe and which is our honor, is misused, we absolutely must reform a Europe that knows how to protect its borders.” And as it is underscored on the announced program of the presidency, one of the main goals is to support the prevention of irregular migratory flows within the Schengen area. Greece has suffered a lot in the past decade because of huge migratory waves, which were even utilized as a hybrid threat by third countries. The intended reform of the Schengen zone marks an important opportunity for Greece to achieve a change in the country’s continuing efforts to alter European legislation toward a more proportional and fixed system of relocation and border security. The talks on the new Migration and Asylum Pact are still at an early stage, but the program of the French presidency aspires to introduce efficient protection mechanisms for the external borders of the EU, like border guards and aerial surveillance.
Last but not least, there is the critical role of defense cooperation on the way to a sovereign Europe. The French president highlighted the importance of building on a common European defense. Most commentators agree that there can never be a truly sovereign European Union without the alignment of the European member-states’ defense industries. Greece has showed its accordance with the French initiative with the recent military procurements carried out for the Hellenic Air Force and Navy. These deals were signed with the French companies Dassault and Naval. Greece has, therefore, actively supported this French initiative, which has made the country the greatest advocator of the importance of a reinforced European defense cooperation. Closely related to this is the recent signing of the defense pact between Greece and France.
Overall, the French presidency has started with great optimism for the future of Europe and shows every intention of making the next six months truly count. Greece has every right to be confident regarding the presidency of its closest historical ally. And if Greece realizes this opportunity, it will greatly benefit not only its own future, but also that of the European Union.
Themistoklis Chatziiakovou is studying for a master’s degree at Sciences Po Paris – PSIA in international security.