PARIS: Europe needs to stop being naive when it comes to defending its interests and build its own military capacity, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday (Sep 28) after Greece sealed a deal for French frigates worth about €3 billion (US$3.51 billion).
France was plunged into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with the United States, Australia and Britain earlier this month over a trilateral nuclear security deal which sank a multi-billion dollar French-designed submarine contract with Canberra.
That has caused much soul searching in Paris over its traditional alliances. Speaking for the first time on the issue, Macron on Tuesday seized the opportunity to urge for more European autonomy as Washington increasingly reorientates its interests towards China and the Indo-Pacific.
"The Europeans must stop being naive. When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden (their stance) , we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things, but protecting ourselves," Macron told a news conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
"This isn't an alternative to the United States alliance. It's not a substitution, but to take responsibility of the European pillar within NATO and draw the conclusions that we are asked to take care of our own protection."
Under Tuesday's agreement Athens agreed to buy three frigates with an option to buy a fourth for about €3 billion, a Greek government source told Reuters.
The accord, part of a broader strategic military and defence cooperation pact, comes after Athens had already ordered around 24 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets this year, making it the first European Union country to buy the fighter jet.
"This will tie us for decades," Mitsotakis said. "This opens the door to the Europe of tomorrow that is strong and autonomous, capable of defending its interests."
When asked whether this deal risked raising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Macron said the accord did not target a country specifically, but Greece, as the outer border of the European Union needed to be protected.
"I don't get the feeling that in the summer of 2020 it was Greece that was bellicose in the eastern Mediterranean," Macron said, alluding to Turkish actions in the region.
"As Europeans it is our duty to show solidarity with members states. It is legitimate that we commit to equipping it so it can ensure its territorial integrity is respected and that we commit to cooperating to protect it in case of intrusions, attacks or aggressions," he said.