Cooperation between the armed forces of France and Greece is a strategic partnership that also benefits their allies, is the message French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna sends in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini, ahead of a visit on Tuesday.
Arriving in Athens after visiting Ankara, the French official notes that there are “questions” concerning Turkey’s challenges of Greek sovereignty and calls for open lines of communication between the two allies and neighbors. She also stresses that Paris will continue to be “supportive” when it comes to attacks on Greek sovereignty, saying this is something that “will not change.”
Colonna also argues that Turkey and Belarus are weaponizing the migration crisis in order to destabilize the European Union and urges a firm stance “against those who use human misery as a political weapon.”
In terms of the energy crisis, the French foreign minister says it is the price Europe has to pay for defending its values against Russia, while asked about the EU’s shift in stance on the matter of energy and of Total’s withdrawal from the Crete block, Colonna argues in favor of independence from Russian gas via renewables and nuclear energy, saying that Greece is well placed for a green transition.
France seems to understand the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean as a region that holds significant opportunities but also challenges of wider European interest. How far does the strategic partnership between Greece and France reach, specifically in the critical sector of defense?
The bilateral relationship between Greece and France is unique, its cultural and civilizational roots are ancient, and today they are deep and solid in every aspect. The strategic partnership signed by French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis a year ago has further enriched this relationship. In the area of defense, this partnership establishes close cooperation between our armed forces, which will benefit our allies. And I am delighted that Greece has chosen French military equipment, which promises greater interoperability in the years to come. It is very pleasing to see, given the many challenges we face, that Paris and Athens very often share the same views and are always striving for greater solidarity and unity within the European Union. I was able to discuss this with [Greek Foreign Minister] Nikos Dendias in Paris last July, and we agreed to continue our exchanges in Athens.
You visited Ankara just before your trip to Athens. How do you view the choice of Turkey, a member of NATO, to systematically launch threats against the national sovereignty of Greece? An attitude which it has not abandoned despite the active front of the Western alliance in Ukraine. What messages did you will convey to the Turkish authorities?
I believe it is essential, in the context of the war in Ukraine, to strengthen the dialogue with all countries that can play a useful role in this crisis, and Turkey is undoubtedly one of them. That was the purpose of my trip to Ankara and Istanbul, which also allowed me to address the unavoidable issues relating to stability in our common neighborhood, including the Eastern Mediterranean.
‘We know that defending our values and principles in times of war may come at a price, but it is in our best interest’
On certain matters, there are questions about Turkey’s attitude, and it is normal and useful to maintain an open dialogue with an ally and neighboring country which allows us to discuss everything. I would like to reiterate, as my country has already stated on numerous occasions, including through the president of the republic, that France is always very clear and supportive when it comes to attacks on Greece’s sovereignty, and this will not change.
Turkey has borne the brunt of immigration, but at the same time it uses it – often with unfair practices – as a policy tool in its relations with Europe. Where do you focus your attention on the handling of immigration issues, which also has serious social and at the end of the day political complications in all European countries?
During its presidency of the European Union Council, France has pushed forward the European response to the phenomenon of migration – because it can only be common to all 27 member-countries. We are determined to act on several fronts: first, on solidarity, with measures to relieve those member-states that are on the front line in terms of reception; second, on better cooperation with countries of origin and transit; and third, on better protection of our borders, with mandatory screening for asylum seekers entering the Union.
We must also face up to the fact that countries such as Belarus or Turkey, as you rightly say, are trying to use migratory flows as a means to destabilize the European Union. We are determined to stand firm against those who use human misery as a political weapon.
Europe is facing a difficult winter of energy crisis and inflation, which is largely due to the Ukrainian crisis. Can Europe’s geopolitical strategy withstand the economic consequences of this crisis? In any case, do you see any scenario of disengagement from Ukraine, within a reasonable period of time?
As you know, France is in favor of a more sovereign Europe, a Europe that protects its citizens, its interests and its values. During our presidency, Europe has made progress in this sense, and the work will continue under the Czech presidency. There is the same will to face together the current energy crisis, by diversifying our sources of supply, limiting our gas consumption in a coordinated way, and accelerating the green transition. You are right, the Russian aggression against Ukraine has led to a rise in energy prices, which is fueling inflation in all EU member-states. Here again, Europe is ready to act, in particular through a thorough reform of the electricity market, as requested by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron.
We are confronted with a Russia that makes energy, food and information fully fledged weapons in its strategy of aggression. We know that defending our values and principles in times of war may come at a price, but it is in our best interest. We also know that the war in Ukraine is likely to last for a long time.
In any case, we Europeans must preserve our greatest asset, unity. That is why we must stand together, as we have done in the past for Greece, for instance, during the euro crisis.
Very recently, French company TotalEnergies withdrew from hydrocarbon exploration off the island of Crete, as it is now turning its interest to renewables. Given Europe’s decision to permanently wean itself off Russian gas, do you think it can afford to turn its back on other potential sources of fossil fuels? Accordingly, the question arises for the case of nuclear energy.
I can hardly comment on the decision of a private company. Generally speaking, we need to change our approach: Reduce our energy dependence, develop renewable energies and nuclear energy. I would add that the development of renewables or hydrogen must not create new dependencies. We are therefore giving priority to supporting renewable energies produced within the European Union, and Greece is well placed in this context.
We must be realistic and pragmatic. This transition may take time and it is impossible to ask all of Europe to stop using gas overnight, which is why we are pursuing a strategy of diversifying our supplies to reduce our dependence on Russia as quickly as possible.