KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, Greece’s prime minister, cast it as a love story. “History…wants us together,” he told Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, in Paris on September 28th. “So does geography.” He serenaded Mr Macron with tales of Ionian seafarers landing in Marseilles and the French Philhellenes who backed Greece’s war of independence. Mr Macron said that Greece was “a civilisation that has inspired us and enabled us to be ourselves”. Then the two leaders consummated their courtship with what they are calling a “strategic” defence pact.
The Franco-Greek relationship has been forged in rivalry with Turkey, which last year squared off with Greek warships around Cyprus, and with French ones off Libya. An anti-Turkey bloc, including France, Greece, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, has gradually taken shape. Mr Mitsotakis, eager to secure French support and bolster his own armed forces, had already agreed to buy 18 Rafale warplanes from France in January, at a cost of €2.5bn ($2.9bn), and six more in September. Now he will also buy three new French frigates, with the option of one more.
That is a boon for Greece’s navy, which has just 13 ageing frigates against Turkey’s newer fleet of 16. It is also a well-timed consolation prize for Naval Group, the majority-state-owned French arms firm which Australia turfed out of a lucrative sub marine contract on September 15th as part of its AUKUS pact with America and Britain. Naval Group is building the new frigates in Brittany; Greece is supposed to take delivery of its first in 2025.