In an apparent indirect swipe at the US, Australia and the UK in the wake of the 'AUKUS' agreement which cut France out of a major multi-billion dollar deal with Australia, French President Emmanuel Macron in new statements has urged Europe to "stop being naive" - suggesting Paris is critically reviewing its traditional alliances and is ready to build-up European defenses independent of others.
"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 said.
He made the provocative remarks at a Tuesday news conference and signing ceremony alongside Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, after Greece and France finalized a major deal to upgrade Greek military purchases. Last year Greece ordered two dozen Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets as part of a 2.5 billion euro package - but at the joint press conference the two leaders hailed an extension of the deal for another six Rafele jets as well as three Belharra French frigates for Greece's navy.
Greece will be the first European country to acquire France's jet fighter, while the deal for the frigates is expected to be a around another three billion euros. This week's announcements are perhaps intended to also be a 'face saving' exercise after the AUKUS pact humiliation earlier this month.
"It contributes to European security, to the strengthening of Europe’s strategic autonomy and sovereignty, and thus to international peace and security," Macron said.
And PM Mitsotakis agreed, "This will tie us for decades." The new deal includes an option for Athens to acquire a fourth frigate. Over the past two years amid territorial disputes between Turkey and Greece and Cyprus - Paris has been a staunch supporter of Greece and Cyprus, even conducting joint aerial and naval drills as a show of force against Turkish encroachment.
Macron in the Tuesday press conference brushed aside accusations that the Greece deal is in reaction to the US-Australia AUKUS with the following:
Macron insisted the pact is not "an alternative to the United States alliance." But, he added pointedly, it is a way "to take responsibility of the European pillar within NATO and draw the conclusions that we are asked to take of our own protection."
In the recent past there's been serious talk of a "European Army" which has never ultimately got off the ground, however, France's firm stance on building up autonomous European defense while not relying on leading NATO partners could put the initiative back in the spotlight.