By Mark Waller
BBC News, Paris
By definition, the Eurofighter is a European-made aircraft
Greece has agreed to buy two new French-made warships that will act as fast as any American or British force. A deal worth well over £1bn sterling was done between Greece’s state armaments company, Hellenic Armaments Holding (HHL), and its French partner, DCNS. In addition to France’s own-brand F18 jets and huge plant in Toulon, the DCNS shipyard is an important part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s strategic strategy for his country’s defence. Two of the ships – a frigate and a corvette – are being built in France. A high-speed version is to be built in Greece. ‘Heroes’ Built by one of the three largest shipbuilders in the world, DCNS is the military arm of the French energy group, Total. While Greek shipyard operators complain of cutbacks on their own shipbuilding industry and investment abroad, France is having a huge manufacturing comeback, expanding and upgrading its armaments manufacturing. More than 50 years ago, the French bombed Greece into launching the first nuclear tests in the North Sea. Many Greek journalists remember this as a good time to make a fortune. A growing interest in military hardware, and heavily subsidised defence, has led to Greek-French military co-operation stretching back to the 1950s. French warships and planes – including four carrier battle groups – have frequently been deployed to patrol the Aegean Sea as the Nato-led Rapid Reaction Force in the Caucasus region – as well as stopping drug smugglers and migrant smugglers, says defence analyst Maxime Savoie. More recent cooperation has seen French military personnel serve with the Greek coastguard in the Aegean. Hellenic officials say France is their biggest defence partner. “We have cooperation with France in terms of aircraft and mine detectors, but there’s no maritime co-operation,” said Alexandros Talavera, a former Greek navy chief of staff. However, if Greece wants to be an important European force in the world, it needs to be able to build a navy and a navy chief of staff. For France, which joined Nato in 1955, the Greek interest was clearly in defending Nato’s borders and relations with the US. A more wary respect is now in place. On the eve of the meeting to unveil the submarine-like Hellenic-built corvette, Greek defence sources told me they had received words of caution from the Americans. Upgraded Hellenic frigate The Hellenic part of the deal is being held in abeyance until the Greek parliament approves the government’s bailout programme. It is also quite symbolic, since Greece has repeatedly failed to meet foreign aid conditions during the past decade. Meanwhile, the more advanced frigate is being built and tested at DCNS’s Toulon facility, where about 3,000 workers will eventually assemble it.
Read more about the Greek bailout proposal Greek officials tell me that by the time the frigate and corvette are ready to be shipped out, they should be among the best equipped and best equipped warships in the world. But while DCNS’s new shipyard in Toulon continues to expand, the submarine builder Yves Leborgne is striking out for other export markets, such as India and South Africa. Greek defence officials told me that this merger of the Greek air force’s 200-strong fleet of Italian-made Ariane 5 rockets with DCNS’s Dassault C-27J tactical transport plane was a significant symbol of solidarity. Meanwhile, Greece’s public services minister Panagiotis Kouvelis has mused about possible future exports of Airbus A320 passenger planes – potentially first among EU allies. How the Greeks’ support of France is received in Brussels or London is less certain. Greece has had no significant contribution to the EU’s effort to improve its defence as yet. And despite the dramatic interest in the EU in this area of defence co-operation, the real test for any real improvements will be in the years ahead. Mark Waller is a correspondent for the BBC News website in Athens.
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