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.
President of the French Republic François Hollande visited Greece twice, on 19 February 2013 and 22-23 October 2015. During the latter visit, a joint declaration was signed, establishing a strategic partnership for the future. Moreover, the Prime Minister’s visit to Greece on 3 and 4 June 2016 helped further strengthen ties between our two countries through the signing of a bilateral roadmap aimed at enhancing our economic, cultural, defence and security cooperation. Under the third financial assistance plan for Greece, France provides technical assistance for the implementation of the reforms contained in the memorandum. In liaison with the European Commission’s Structural reform support programme, it is a spearhead in the area of State reform.
Despite the modest volume of trade (0.5% of our exports and 0.1% of our imports), Greece, with which we had a surplus of €823 million in 2016, represents our largest trade surplus in the eurozone and second-largest in the EU (behind the United Kingdom at €10.7 billion). Overall, it is our eighth-largest trade surplus, behind the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
French exports to Greece fell 1% in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the previous year, to €1.1 billion, while imports of Greek products to France fell 10.2% (beyond €300 million, making France Greece’s 11ᵗʰ-largest customer). This produced a balance of €823 million in the first half of 2016, a rise of 2.9% on the first half of 2015 (€799.7 million). However, France is only Greece’s seventh-largest supplier. Its market share stands at 4.5%, about half that of Germany (11.2%) and Italy (8.6%).
France’s exports are relatively diversified but remain focused on a few major sectors. Consumer goods (perfumes and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles and fashion) make up more than a third, followed by the agrifood sector at one fifth (dominated by beef exports). Exports of equipment are on the rise, driven by aviation deliveries to the private airline Aegean Airlines.
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. 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 La 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 most-taught 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 in attracting students.
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.
Our bilateral relationship is also opening up to new sectors of the digital economy. A Franco-Greek forum on business and innovation was thus held on 24 and 25 November 2016 in Athens, exploring new fields of cooperation.
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 appreciated 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. In this context, a second instalment of €115 million was released on 10 September 2016 under the emergency assistance instrument (which plans €700 million over 3 years, including €300 million in 2016, for all countries affected by the migration crisis), bringing total humanitarian assistance to Greece in 2016 up to €198 million. That came on top of €353 million of emergency assistance provided since 2015, and €509 million of support for Greek migration policy over the period 2014-2020. Greece has also activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism twice, and France has responded both times.
Moreover, extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings on 14 and 22 September 2015 adopted two emergency “relocation” mechanisms for 160,000 people in urgent need of protection, who arrived in Italy and Greece. For its part, France will take in slightly more than 37,000 people under these mechanisms and its contribution to the EU-Turkey joint statement. With 2,091 relocations having been carried out as of 15 December 2016, France is the leading contributor to relocations from Greece.
Updated: 10 January 2017