Greece and France have been partners for many years. The historic bonds between French Presidents and Greek Prime Ministers are also well known. In 1974, Valery Giscard d’ Estaing lent the French Presidency’s aeroplane to Konstantinos Karamanlis so he could return to Athens from Paris and restore democracy to country after the collapse of the military junta that had ruled Greece since 1967. Francois Mitterand also had a great relationship with Andreas Papandreou, the Socialist prime minister who was the most prominent political figure in Greek politics during the 1980’s.
Greece’s current prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, recently travelled to Paris for the second time in six months to meet with his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron. Mitsotakis and Macron are both considered liberals, despite the fact that their parties belong to different political families in Europe.
Mitsotakis was elected last July with a pro-reform agenda, while Macron is trying to put forward tough and contested reforms in France. Macron is also a leading political figure in Europe and has a broader role in European politics. In the last several years, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was the only one to call the shots at an international level. but with her in political career on the decline, there is room for Macron to assert his, and France’s, role in the world.
As a result, Mitsotakis is investing a lot of time on strengthening the strategic relationship between Athens and Paris as he works to shore up support to deal with the tense geo-political situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to Greek government sources, France appears to be committed to strengthening its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Paris is also sending signals that it shares with Greece a common view on a number of issues related to security and stability in the region. Based on this complimentary perspective, all issues, sincluding joint exercises and an increased military presence for France, will be determined in the immediate future.
At this point, there is still no clear timetable for the joint exercises, which will be discussed bilaterally over the next few months. The basic requirements are, however, expected to be set up and finalised by the two country’s foreign and defence ministers sooner rather than later. On February 24, France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly is scheduled to visit Athens to further hammer out the terms of the joint military cooperation. Her visit is being interpreted as a major benchmark for solidifying the cooperation terms between the two NATO allies.
Macron has been extremely clear about France’s position in regards to the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding on an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. Macros has firmly placed France alongside Greece and Cyprus and accused has Ankara of flagrantly violating the terms of a ceasefire in Libya.
From Athens’ perspective, the Greek side has been extremely satisfied by Macron’s statements regarding the situation solidified with Turkey and the Libya crisis, particularly when taking into consideration that Macron very publicly asserted that Turkey is in direct violation of the peace agreement, a sentiment that he also stressed in his meeting with Mitsotakis.
While in Paris, Mitsotakis, also met with the CEO of France’s Total energy giant, Patrick Poyanne, as the company is active in the area where Turkey now claims is its Exclusive Economic Zone. The Turks claim that within this area, they have exclusive drilling rights and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to begin drilling activity in the coming days, a move that would threaten Total’s rights if if comes to pass as the company already has long-established contracts with the Greek government to explore natural resource deposits close to the island of Crete.
Greek government officials have explained that any violation of the rights of Total by Turkey, will be in turn considered a strategic threat France’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The French nod for a primary surplus
Aside from a closer military cooperation, Macron was the first European leader to support the Greek pledge for lower primary surplus targets for 2021 and 2022. According to the Greek Fiscal Stability Programme, Greece needs to meet the 3.5% surplus targets, in both aforementioned years, before it lands at 2% after 2022.
Mitsotakis has stressed that he will use the extra fiscal space for growth purposes by further reducing taxes and providing pro-business and investment incentives with the aim of achieving growth rates higher than 3%. Before travelling to Paris, Mitsotakis met, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Mer to discuss a prospective reduction of the primary surplus targets, wich paved the way for the latest meeting with Macron.