The French ended up making a massive arms sale and boosting their stature within the European Union. What did Greece get?
When France sided with Greece over its maximalist claims in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Greek nationalists cheered it on. Greek media outlets described France's aid as a ‘strategic alliance’, and forecasted it will be a game-changer vis-a-vis Turkey.
In line with this thinking, the Greek government agreed to buy French weapons. Immediately afterward, French president Emmanuel Macron wrote a letter to Turkey beginning with “Dear Tayyip”.
In the dispute between Ankara and Athens, the French government is seizing an opportunity as opposed to having any conviction in Greek claims. Due to the French position on the Channel Islands of the United Kingdom, Macron knows well how inappropriate the Greek claims are, but this did not prevent him from pursuing his Neo-Napoleonic policies. By doing so, he aimed to counterbalance Germany’s growing dominance in the EU after Brexit
However, a second motive became clear later. Turkish superiority in military terms prevented Athens from pursuing gunboat diplomacy and every military provocation by Greece failed. Facing reality, the Greek administration had two choices; either to enter dialogue with Turkey or follow the French lead.
At that time, Liana Kanelli, a member of the Greek Parliament for the Communist Party of Greece warned the Greeks that they are making a ‘fatal mistake’ by relying on Paris. However, her voice was not heard. Mitsotakis decided to follow Macron.
Paris sent fighter jets and an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, advocated strong European sanctions against Turkey, tried to gather Mediterranean states within the EU, and doubled down on rhetoric against Ankara. France also offered selling Greece its Rafale fighter jets.
Despite France's failure on every front – from convincing EU members to sanction Turkey to forming a Mediterranean axis within the EU – Mitsotakis continued down this road. Greek lawmakers approved the purchase of 18 Dassault-made Rafale jets from France for $3.04 billion. With this, the signing of the arms deal by the respective defense ministers of both nations has become a mere formality.
Thanks to the Greek government, Macron managed to increase his stature, played his geopolitical game to lead the EU in foreign policymaking and geopolitics. On top of that, he guaranteed a lucrative economic deal for French defense companies. An economic boost to the French defense industry subsidised by the Greek taxpayer.
Through all this France gained what it needed for itself in the dispute between Turkey and Greece – Athens on the other end has gained nothing from this ‘alliance’.
After France secured its deals and exploited the situation to assert itself vis-a-vis Germany in the EU, the Turkish and French presidents exchanged letters in which they agreed to resume talks aimed at mending ties.
In short, the Greeks were misled by the French. It was neither European solidarity nor a reference to international law motivating them, but rather mere self-interest that drove the French position. While a rapprochement between Paris and Ankara is on the horizon, Athens should not invest any more hope in Paris.
Based on this experience, the Greek government has to differentiate between ‘allies’ who are simply siding with them out of self-interest. Building an alliance without common ground on ideology or other principles – like allying with the UAE in support of the warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya – will, and has, left Athens isoalted. In the meantime, both neighbors have lost time to sort things out bilaterally.
However, Turkey and Greece have now agreed to restart talks to resolve their dispute over the Aegean and the Mediterranean. After a string of rejections, the Greek government has accepted the Turkish call for dialogue on all matters.
Until recently, Athens hoped to create a fait accompli and wanted to restrict the talks to a pre-determined set of topics, but it failed. Turkey managed to not only stop Greece's economic activity in its maritime areas claimed by Greece, but also conducted exploration.
While Turkey showed that it won’t back down from its rights and the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Greece lost $3.04 billion it could have invested in its economy and people to understand that the only solution is diplomacy with Turkey.
Keeping in mind that the EU aided Greece to the tune of billions during the euro-crisis to prevent the collapse of the Greek economy and a major economic crisis for the monetary union – it is shocking that Paris exploited Greek adventurism to extort money from Athens for its domestic defense industry.
While Greece and Turkey have to commit themselves to talks and actively try to resolve the dispute, the EU has to end its pursuit of foolish policies. France, in its current effort to reconcile with Turkey, has to end to make use of maximalist Greek claims to gain political and economic benefits and recognise the value of common ground with Turkey.
As it seems, Paris as well as Athens and Brussels have understood this and are trying to come to terms with Ankara. The recent warm rhetoric, the visit of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to Turkey, the exchange of letters between Paris and Athens, and the restart of the Turkish-Greek talks suggests that a positive direction in Turkey-EU relations is on the horizon.
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