France looks forward to further strengthening its already close relations with Greece, Florence Parly told Kathimerini in an interview shortly after the signing of the agreement for the purchase of 18 Rafale fighters by Greece in Athens. France is also ready to sell the new-generation FDI frigates to Athens, and is further discussing the possibility of planning for part of their production to be carried out in Greece.
The French minister of the armed forces points out that the Hellenic Air Force will in the near future be participating in the multinational Skyros exercise ranging from Greece to the United Arab Emirates and India, while in February a Greek frigate will join the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier task force. Parly also talks about the participation of the Hellenic Special Forces in the French-led operations operations in Mali, while she notes that contacts for the formalization of a bilateral security agreement are ongoing. Regarding Turkey’s stance, Parly notes that appeasement rhetoric is positive, but must also be confirmed by facts. In this regard, she stresses that France will be unwavering regarding international law respect.
What will the next steps be in defense cooperation between Greece and France after the finalization of the Rafale agreement?
With Greece, we are building a solid defense relationship. The supply of Rafale fighter aircraft to Athens is only one aspect of it. We regularly exchange views on strategic issues regarding the Mediterranean and other regions, our armed forces jointly conduct exercises, and I also hope for a closer cooperation of our defense industries. For this, we have new instruments within the European Union framework, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation and the European Defense Fund. I would also like to point out that we have very similar visions on European defense issues and challenges.
Will there be a new proposal for the procurement of French naval ships? Is it possible that some could be built here in Greece?
As you know, France has a global leading naval industry. Currently, Naval Group is building a new generation of frigates for the French Navy, the Defense and Intervention Frigates / Frégate de Défense et d’Intervention (FDI). I can tell you that these frigates are state-of-the-art in their category and will be the spearhead of our Navy. I think that Greece acquiring these frigates would be very good news for our two countries. One more! This is why, of course, France and its naval industry will respond to any request from the Hellenic Navy. In addition, I am convinced we need to consider how we could schedule part of the production in Greece. This would help strengthen Europe’s defense industrial and technological base, something I strongly support.
Do you foresee more joint exercises with the Hellenic Air Force and Navy in the Aegean and East Med?
Yes, very soon. In a few days, we will deploy significant air assets in Greece as part of the Skyros mission. This long-range deployment will include up to 170 aviators, four Rafales, two A400M Atlas transport aircraft and one A330 Phénix. This French Air Force group has already started a visiting campaign, which began on January 20 and will end on February 5. Taking off from Djibouti, it will successively visit India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Greece. This exercise aims to demonstrate the French Air and Space Force’s ability to deploy thousands of kilometers from its borders within a limited time frame and in an area of strategic interest where France wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the concept of refueling and air freedom. This will be the very first joint mission for these three flagships of the French Air and Space Force. Of course, this will be an opportunity to interact and train with the Hellenic Air Force.
Moreover, after the Hellenic Air Force participation in the Volfa 2020 exercise in France last fall, we are impatiently awaiting the deployment of the fighter aircraft (eight Rafales and four Mirage 2000s), next spring, during the international exercise Iniocos (April 12-24 in Greece).
Regarding the naval field, our aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will leave on a mission in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean during the first semester of 2021. An invitation has been extended to Greece to participate in this mission with a frigate between the end of February and the beginning of March. This deployment will also include interactions between the French Carrier Strike Group and the Hellenic Air Force. This will allow our forces to continue to learn to maneuver together, to strengthen their interoperability.
These contacts are also taking place at a multilateral level, especially within the framework of the quadripartite initiative (Greece, France, Cyprus and Italy) or the Medusa initiative, as at the beginning of December. But our operational cooperation could evolve in the near future with Greek engagement in the Sahel, where more and more Europeans are joining us, whether in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) or within Takuba Task Force, which is a European special forces group accompanying the Malian Armed Forces in combat.
Is there room for a mutual security agreement between Greece and France?
Franco-Greek defense relations have reached their highest level in a decade, as proven by the dozen ministerial meetings and the chief of staff visit to Greece in 2019.
Important elements of the strategic partnership mentioned last January during the meeting between French president and the Greek prime minister have already been implemented, particularly between our armed forces. We are of course continuing to work on this subject, to be ready to formalize it as soon as possible.
What steps should Europe take to attain strategic autonomy?
As you know, France believes in a stronger Europe, more resilient in the face of crises. I believe that the crisis we have been experiencing for almost a year has shown the necessity to strengthen Europe’s sovereignty.
The “strategic autonomy” notion refers to the capacity for Europeans to have their own freedom of assessment, decision and action. What is at stake here is European citizens’ – as well as our interests’ – protection, but above all it is the foundation of our sovereignty and our collective credibility, including as partner, notably within NATO.
This strategic autonomy covers a very wide field, from the protection of our democratic institutions against the threat of foreign interference, to assessment and action freedom in the operational field, including our economies and technologies security, which implies the strengthening of the European defense industry. In this area, we have made a lot of progress over the past few years. However, we must improve even more.
Do you believe that Turkey has a genuine interest in working with the EU and adjusting its behavior to international norms?
I hope so! It is in everyone’s interest to maintain close and trusting relationships, especially between neighboring and allied countries. We must not forget that our disunities weaken us in the end, while preventing us from focusing on major threats such as terrorism and migration. However, we must be perceptive and vigilant: Appeasement rhetoric is welcome as long as it is accompanied by facts. In particular, we will be unwavering on the issue of respect for international law.