The deal, signed last month, provides for a mutual defense clause which includes the territories of the two countries. The landmark agreement was widely perceived as a first step to achieving European strategic autonomy in defense.
It provides mutual assistance in case of an armed attack by a third country, even if the latter belongs to NATO. That clause was perceived by the Greek side as a French military support in a potential Greece – Turkey conflict.
“The Parties shall render mutual aid and assistance, by all appropriate means in their possession, if necessary the use of armed force, if they jointly determine that an armed attack has occurred against the territory of one of them, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations”, reads Article 2 of the agreement.
However, the French Defense Ministry said in a written statement that exclusive economic zones are not part of the deal. The clarification is a blow to the Greek government, which advertised the deal’s total efficiency.
“EEZ not considered part of a State”
“The EEZ is not considered to be part of the territory of a State, notably by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (known as the Montego Bay Convention), to which France and Greece are parties,” the Ministry said.
The French statement comes after reports which suggested that the French Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the military agreement only concerns “territories”. The issue has caused a political clash between the ruling New Democracy party and the leftist main opposition SYRIZA party.
SYRIZA did not ratify the agreement in a parliamentary vote, arguing that France should clarify EEZs as part of the military deal. Neighboring Turkey, a NATO member, has long questioned the extent of Greece’s EEZ.
PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisted in the parliamentary debate that the International Court of Justice has accepted an armed attack as an invasion. He said that it allows use of force against another state military unit, “even outside the stricto sensu of territory”.
“This is why no military agreement globally makes reference to an EEZ or a continental shelf”, the Greek PM added.
PM now in awkward position
However, today’s French Ministry of Defense statement has now put him in an awkward position, to say the least.
The EEZ debacle has been pointed out by leading experts in the field, including former Foreign and Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos. He has been skeptical about France’s involvement in a potential EEZ conflict between Greece and Turkey.
Greece and France sealed the defense agreement on September 28 with the sale of three frigates, and the option for a fourth. At the signing ceremony in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said the agreement is part of a deeper “strategic partnership” between the two countries.