Macron sees ships deal with Greece as start of an EU defence network

Europe must stop being “naive” about defence and build up its own armed forces, Emmanuel Macron said yesterday after signing a €3bn deal with Greece to buy French frigates.

he French president has not officially responded to a mounting row over Australia’s decision to cancel a €60bn contract for French submarines in favour of a military pact with the US and Britain. However, in private he was reported to be in a “dark rage” over the snub.

Mr Macron, who is the driving force behind efforts to integrate Europe’s military forces, sought to cast the Greek contract as the beginning of a common defence project that would demonstrate the continent had the “power and ability to defend ourselves”.

Under the deal, Greece will buy three French warships with an option for a fourth. Australia had agreed to buy eight diesel submarines from France, but signed an agreement to buy 12 nuclear-powered vessels from the US instead.

It would be a “terrible mistake” not to take into account American disengagement in Europe and its pivot toward confronting China, Mr Macron said from the Elysee Palace.

“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.”

Analysts said the relatively paltry sums involved in the Greek deal meant it could not replace the far larger Australian submarine contract, but Mr Macron was using the announcement to turn a defeat into a spur for pooling Europe’s defence efforts.

“I doubt very much that this deal can replace the one for the diesel Barracuda submarines,” said Pierre Servant, a French defence expert.

“Even so, the symbol is strong and the timing perfect for Macron.”

For Greece, the deal can also be seen as a reaction to the Aukus accord and a tilt toward a common European defence policy, said Angelos Chryssogelos, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.

The Greek government had initially been expected to buy US-made warships before opting for the French frigates.

“But it dawned on Greece, as it did for other European countries, that you can’t rely on the US for a long-term presence,” he said.

Leading EU officials this month called for the creation of a 5,000-strong rapid-reaction force after the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Mr Macron intends to push for greater European strategic autonomy when France takes over the rotating presidency of the EU next January, just four months before the French presidential elections.

French shipbuilder Naval Group, which is 65pc state-owned, stands to lose €8bn from the loss of the “contract of the century”.

However, Mr Macron in- sisted that the US-Australia pact would not sink France’s shipbuilding industry and would “have no effect” on its strategic course. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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