Athens gets busy amid Erdoğan defiance

While the focus of the European Union Summit next Friday and Saturday in Brussels will be on the tough negotiations over the Recovery Fund, from which Greece is seeking 32 billion euros, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is also scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the event amid the intensification of the challenges posed by Turkey in the wider region and a significant deterioration in relations between Paris and Ankara over Libya. 

The meeting, which also comes on the heels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s defiance of the international community with the conversion of the former church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque on Friday, is seen to be of particular importance as specific ways to upgrade defence cooperation between Greece and France will be discussed as well as the possibility of Athens purchasing two French-made Belh@rra frigates.

According to sources, Mitsotakis has said that “nothing will be closed permanently” during the meeting given Greece’s budgetary restraints over the next few years and the fact that he wants to weigh the country’s options as a whole.

However, given that, according to information, common ground has been reached at an initial phase regarding the cost of the frigates, it is obvious that if during the Mitsotakis-Macron talks a broader understanding is found, the way will be opened for a final negotiation.

This will concern not only the frigates, but a comprehensive negotiation framework that will allow Greece and France to have a close, allied defence relationship. The aim is to conclude an agreement that will include a defence assistance clause in the event that one or the other faces a threat.

Meanwhile, France’s ambassador to Greece, Patrick Maisonnave, told Kathimerini that strengthening defence cooperation between Greece and France, as well as between France and Cyprus, is imperative, while describing Turkey’s initiatives in the Eastern Mediterranean as “dangerous.”

If there is one true ally for Greece in Europe, it is France, he said. 

In Athens, there is also satisfaction with the attitude of Germany and the channel of communication with Angela Merkel, who has been informed by Mitsotakis about Greece’s red lines, in case Turkey proceeds with research in the Greek continental shelf.

Athens, meanwhile, is continuing negotiations with Cairo, in a bid to finalize an exclusive economic zone delimitation agreement in the summer, which will effectively cancel out the Turkey-Libya maritime border memorandum, which includes areas of the Greek continental shelf.

The article was first published in Kathimerini and reprinted with permission.

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