BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:10 A.M.) – As France mulls over a deal to send 18 Rafale fighter jets to Greece amid its deteriorated relations with Turkey, experts believe the move is explained by the conflicting policies of France and Turkey in Libya, as well as by Paris trying to support its fellow EU state, but could further exacerbate tensions in the Mediterranean.
CONFLICT IN LIBYA AND SYRIAN REFUGEES
Last week, media reports suggested that French President Emanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis had reached a deal for Paris to deliver to Athens 18 Rafale fighter jets.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu then said that the French president had become “hysterical” over developments in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts, and a dispute over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“It’s more than just Greece and Turkey … France’s position is also linked to the wider question of Turkish activity in Libya, the issue of Syria and France’s own position in Lebanon. France (along with Germany and the wider NATO leadership) has shown exasperation at Turkish ‘interference’ in Libya, which of course other countries would find ironic … France is a major power in the Mediterranean and therefore would see any Turkish attempt to destabilize the region as a major threat — whether that threat comes from Turkey or elsewhere,” Paul Smith, an associate professor in French and Francophone Studies at the UK University of Nottingham, told Sputnik.
However, experts point out that EU states have to consider different aspects in their foreign policies, which leaves France and Germany, the two major EU powers, on the different sides of the playing field.
After two meetings in Brussels, EU foreign ministers failed to agree on a common approach to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, leaving the call of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to resort to sanctions over what he called illegal exploration drilling in the Greek-claimed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, which remained unheard.
“In the EU there is a cleavage too. France has gotten away from the role of the responsible one, and Germany remains the only responsible at the high level and it has direct problems with Turkey. There is a huge Turkish population in Germany, here are a lot of Turks who are not integrated in the German society which is complicating the issue enormously,” Jean-Vincent Brisset, a retired brigadier general of the French Air Force and a senior research fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs IRIS, told Sputnik.
Germany has resorted to diplomacy by calling on Greece and Turkey to engage in negotiations, Didier Billion, the deputy director of IRIS, told Sputnik.
“I believe that in this issue it’s Germany that is right: Merkel and her foreign minister try everything so that the protagonists, Turkey and Greece in principle could resume negotiations because there is nothing worse than the deployment of military forces,” Billion said.
France has to play many roles at the same time: as a Mediterranean sovereign state, as a member of NATO, and as a part of the EU, the expert continued.
“And every time scenario is different and France has to try and find a compromise between these three different roles. It seems difficult to succeed. And this is even more difficult since in the EU, different states are in disagreement… I think that using the situation in the Mediterranean to manage the situation in Libya should be way beyond preoccupations of France now, which is trying to deal with its own issues facing Turkey in the name of solidarity with NATO and the EU,” Brisset said.
However it is important for France to show its cultural and political proximity to Greece, Smith said.
“Paris and Ankara have difficult relations at the best of times, whereas France sees itself both strategically and culturally closer to Athens. Greece is not just a key member of NATO of course, but is in the frontline dealing with the question of Syrian (and other) refugees,” the expert argued.
Referring to Macron’s speech at the Pantheon last week, which was timed to coincide with the beginning of the trial of the perpetrators of the terror attacks in Paris in January 2015, Smith maintained that the French president had been underlining the importance of the secular nature of his country.
“From the French perspective and with a large French Muslim community to think about, Macron is very wary of the clear shift away from secularism that Erdogan has decided upon within Turkey,” Smith suggested.
SENDING ARMS TO GREECE WILL NOT RESOLVE CONFLICT
Experts agree that by sending arms to Greece, France could contribute to the deterioration of the situation in the Mediterranean.
“I think that France and Macron pursue dangerous politics because it’s not sending French warships or French fighter planes to Cyprus that will arrange things … I think everything must be done for political and diplomatic measures to resume the contact between the Turks and the Greeks first, and then move to negotiations. First thing is to stop this vicious escalation logic of Greek and Turkish leaders … I condemn the politics of President Macron on this issue, which can uselessly aggravate tensions. Everything needs to be done to lower these tensions,” Billion said.
Smith suggested that Macron was “not afraid” to upset Turkey by sending arms to Greece.
“Seen from Paris, it is not Greece that is the volatile power in the region and the government in Athens needs concrete support,” Smith argued.
Brisset, however, believes that this move will not bring much change on the ground.
“As far as the purchase of Rafales is concerned, first we need to ask why France wants to sell planes to the country with enormous financial problems, because besides political reasons there are also financial reasons that have to be considered. And then these Rafales that will arrive without trained staff will not be a game-changer for the current situation,” the expert said.
The delivery will please the French aviation industry, but it will not change anything or improve the French position in the Eastern Mediterranean, Brisset pointed out.