Since the end of World War II, the two countries have always been able to promote their relations, both bilaterally and within the framework of the European Union. The friendships of General de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing with Konstantin Karamanlis enabled the development of active economic and financial cooperation, but also deeper political relations between the two countries. France therefore provided essential support to Greece, at the time of the return to democracy in 1974. This support is symbolized by the slogan “Greece, France: Alliance”, which today remains a reference in Greece. France also played a key role in the negotiations leading to Greece’s entry into the EEC in 1981.
The President of the French Republic, François Hollande, has visited Greece twice, on 19 February 2013 and 22-23 October 2015. During his last visit, President Hollande recalled France’s determination to support Greece in the reforms contained in the third assistance plan and in addressing the migration issue.
Despite the modest volume (0.5% of our exports and 0.1% of our imports), Greece, with a surplus of €1.5 billion in 2014, represents our largest trade surplus in the eurozone (ahead of Luxembourg: €1 billion) and second largest in the EU (behind the United Kingdom (€10.7 billion)). Overall, it is our eighth largest trade surplus, behind the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the UAE.
Due to the crisis, however, our bilateral trade recorded a sharp decrease in 2014 (-5.3%), marked by a fall in exports (-2.4%) and a stabilization of our imports (+0.4%). Our market share was reduced to 4.5% of Greek imports in 2014 (down from 4.7% in 2013). From a sectoral perspective, this decline was mainly due to the contraction of agriculture and food (-7.3% in 2014 to €594 million, after -1.8% in 2013), which are our main exports to Greece (28.1% in 2014). Despite this drop in trade between the two countries, France remains a significant partner to Greece, its 8th-largest supplier (6th in 2013) and 12th-largest customer (10th in 2013).
Greek sales in France are traditionally very low (58th-largest supplier in 2014 and 60th in 2013) and represent only 0.1% of our imports. These Greek exports to France are mainly semi-finished metals and food products.
In a context of reduced foreign investment in Greece (inward FDI flow decline of 36.3% between 2009 and 2013), France remains a major investor. By the end of 2013, it had a total FDI stock of €2.1 billion (11.7% of total FDI in Greece), down from 2009 (€2.8 billion with a 10.1% market share). As in 2009, France remains in fourth place behind Luxembourg (€4.9 billion), Germany (€4.6 billion) and the Netherlands (€3.4 billion).
Source: Directorate-General of the Treasury
There are deep and long-standing cultural exchanges between France and Greece. They are based on four structures: the French School in Athens founded in 1846 and dedicated to archaeology, the Institut Français in Athens and its branches in the provinces, the Institut Français in Thessaloniki and the “Eugène Delacroix” French-Greek secondary school in Athens. On 6 June 2008, on behalf of the Foreign Minister, the Minister of State for European Affairs signed an agreement securing and stabilizing the status of the Institut Français in Thessaloniki.
This special relationship is based on a long-standing and deep-rooted love of all things French, as illustrated by Greece’s recent entry into the International Organisation of the Francophonie as a full member (September 2006). Around 300,000 students are learning French in Greece and there are some 4,000 French teachers in the country. French is the second compulsory foreign language in primary school and the first years of secondary school (in competition with German) but suffers from the lack of a second compulsory foreign language in the final years of secondary school, which hinders us when offering higher education.
Historical cultural ties between France and Greece also help us to maintain our rich artistic relations. Many exchanges take place in this area, and French cultural goods are in high demand among the Greek elite. French cinema was further strengthened by creating a French film festival with the help of local distributors, and by increased involvement in major international festivals such as Thessaloniki.
Greek-French cooperation on internal security was markedly increased after France helped prepare the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Furthermore, following the forest fires of summer 2007, France made large-scale assistance available rapidly to Greece which was greatly appreciated. A little later, in November of the same year, Greece joined the European Rapid Intervention Force created by France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to fight forest fires. Support from France was once again seen in summer 2009 when further forest fires hit the country.
Today, illegal immigration has become Greece’s main internal security challenge. Faced with a significant increase in illegal immigration affecting European security, Greece requested enhanced support from the EU but also from France. Bilaterally, under Operation Poseidon, France has annually provided land and aviation resources to the EU border agency, Frontex.