European member of parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit said former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told him that Germany and France had not wanted Greece to cut military spending because it would hurt French and German industry. (Bertrand Guay / AFP via Getty Images)
PARIS — France and Germany put a priority on maintaining arms deals after the 2008 financial crisis, rather than see Greece cut spending that would hit their defense companies, European member of parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit said March 5.
Cohn-Bendit, nicknamed Dany the Red for playing a leading role in the 1968 student protests in the streets of the French capital, said former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told him that Berlin and Paris had not wanted Athens to slash military spending, as that would hurt French and German industry.
“It’s very difficult because our partners don’t want an immediate and radical cut if it has an impact on agreements between Greece and industry. At the time, it was for German submarines and French helicopters,” Cohn-Bendit told a meeting of the Anglo-American Press Association, recounting a conversation he had with Papandreou in a large hotel lobby when he visited Athens after the 2008 financial crisis.
Papandreou had been replying to Cohn-Bendit’s call in the European Parliament for cuts in Greek military spending to balance the budget, the French politician said.
“If you really want to balance the budget in Greece, you have to attack the military budget,” Cohn-Bendit said.
Greece then spent 4 percent of its gross domestic product on the military, double the 2 percent or so of France and Germany, he said.
Papandreou went on to make some defense cuts when he was elected in 2009.
The French and German leaders also insisted that Greece would use part of a first tranche of financial aid from the European Union to honor the arms contracts, Cohn-Bendit said. The EU aid was intended to stave off a national debt default.
“That’s when I said, that’s truly perverse — we’re giving them money so they can pay French and German industry,” Cohn-Bendit said.
Then Greek Defense Minister Panos Beglitis denied in a May 14, 2010, interview with French afternoon daily Le Monde that France and Germany had put pressure on Athens to sign new arms deals, Agence France-Presse reported at the time.
Greece also is under pressure to maintain defense spending from NATO, which demands that member states supply certain capabilities, and a strong nationalism fueled by tension with Turkey, Cohn-Bendit said.
“The Greek problem is the military budget,” he said.
But because French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel refuse to engage in a political dialogue with Turkey, they are unable to act as peace brokers, he said.
“If you want ... to relieve the Greek budget, you need an initiative that leads to a disarmament agreement between Greece and Turkey,” Cohn-Bendit said. “But Merkel and Sarkozy refuse to talk to Turkey; this leads to blockage.
“Europe is incapable of relaunching these negotiations,” he said.
The Greek Orthodox Church and tax evasion were two other targets the Athens government needed to address in order to balance the budget, Cohn-Bendit said.
Greece bought in 2000 a batch of four U214 diesel-electric submarines from ThyssenKrupp Marine. The program later ran into severe problems.
Greece also ordered NH90 tactical helicopters.
Cohn-Bendit is a member of the Green and Alliance Libre Européene group in the European Parliament.