By DEREK GATOPOULOS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s government is seeking parliamentary approval Tuesday for a 3 billion euro ($3.4 billion) agreement for three new French-made frigates that defense officials say are vital for addressing ongoing tensions with neighboring Turkey.
Lawmakers are also debating whether to add six new Rafale fighter jets to an existing order for 18 planes ‒ six of them newly built and 12 that were previously in service in the French air force.
NATO members Greece and Turkey remain at odds over maritime boundaries and mineral exploitation rights in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. A Turkish oil and gas survey in 2020 resulted in a tense naval standoff between the two countries.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said the Greek military needs to modernize following repeated funding cuts during the country’s acute 2010-18 financial crisis.
“There is no armament program that is ‘slightly necessary’ or ‘somewhat necessary’,” Panagiotopoulos told lawmakers Monday during a committee-level debate in parliament.
“All of the armament programs that we have submitted for approval, in one way or another, are absolutely necessary for the armed forces ‒ extremely necessary, urgently necessary.”
Greece’s center-right government has 157 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament, and the proposed purchases are expected to be approved without dissent within the ruling party. The left-wing main-opposition party opposes the additional purchase of French fighter jets.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron finalized the frigate deal last year along with an enhanced defense cooperation agreement between their countries. Mitsotakis denied claims by political opponents that the purchases could rattle the Greek economy, which is already saddled with high deficits due to pandemic spending and a huge national debt worth more than twice the country’s annual output. “The program addresses the needs of the armed forces, it helps maintain our strong alliances, it’s being implemented at a fast pace and it mobilizes forces in our national economy, but it will not upset the necessary fiscal balance,” he told lawmakers.
Made by France’s Naval Group, two warships are due to be delivered in 2025 and the third the following year, with an option to add a fourth frigate to be ready in 2027.