French action in the conflict between Greece and Turkey: a revealing interference

di Juline Lefevre Lancelot - 30 Settembre 2020

  from Lille, France

   DOI: 10.48256/TDM2012_00130

In recent weeks, France has been involved in a conflict between Turkey and Greece that did not concern it from the outset. On Tuesday, August 8th, Turkey had announced it had sent warships to search for oil in a zone that mostly belongs to Greece. Turkey has disputed the Greek maritime zone for decades. As a response, Greece sent warships to monitor Turkish activities. On August 12th, France decided to reinforce its military presence to help Greece.  

By strengthening its naval and air presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, France’s action can be described as an interference. In any case, it can tell a lot about French foreign policy logic. In its history, there has often been a line of action and some strategic guidelines. As French diplomat Maxime Lefebvre explains, “the History of France’s foreign policy merges with its history as a nation”.  ”It represents the expression of its personality, as well as France’s identity in international relations.” (Lefebvre, 2019). 

France retains a political will, a certain self-esteem, and mostly a form of « grandeur » from its past. This heritage is shaping France’s behavior in the international area. Thus, it is possible to shed some light on the logic that made France take part in this specific conflict.


The defense of the Western values

The French first strategic guideline in foreign policy is triggered by the defense of values that used to be associated with the Western world. For instance, France is particularly attached to the protection of human rights, libert and democracy. On August 13, France’s armed forces ministry declared they were concerned about Turkey’s maneuvering in the Mediterranean sea (Koundouno, 2020). Indeed, the exploration warships sent by Turkey were seen by France as a threat to international sea rights. French Ministry of the Armed Forces stated that “this military presence aims to reaffirm… France’s attachment to free movement, the security of maritime navigation in the Mediterranean, and international law,”(Ministère des armées, 2020). 

Apart from a willingness to defend certain values, France demonstrates a sense of solidarity towards Western countries in international relations. France may have decided to take part because Greece is a member of the European Union. This ideal of solidarity is also merging with France’s desire of seeing the EU defense grow stronger, which is another plausible reason for this interference (élysé, 2017).


EU prosperity and power as the second strategic guideline

Greece buying 18 rafales from France is seen as deepening their partnership according to French Ministry of the Armed Forces. On September 14th, Florence Parly declared that it will certainly reinforce the operational cooperation between the two countries, strengthening cooperation inside the EU (Ministre des armées, 2020).

Since De Gaulle’s rule, France wants to promote the idea of a powerful Union, that is able to have a strategic autonomy as the EU affirmed so in 2013 (EUCO 217/13, 2013). “France is continuing its efforts to promote a stronger, more autonomous and united Europe of defense“, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces stated (France 24, 2020). To defend Greece’s interests is to defend the Union interests, as oil and resources could benefit the whole Union, and therefore also France.


The third strategic guideline: efforts to remain an important actor in international relations

France has a history of being an international power. “France has always understood itself as a globally acting middle power, which leads an ambitious foreign policy.“ (Krotz, 2002). So its ambitions may have led France to demonstrate its role of power. A power able to create appeasement, allowing dialogue that will be the key to resolving the conflict (Lagneau, 2020).


Hegemonic ambitions in a wider stage

To bring this thought further, we must understand that the tensions between France and Turkey endure in another arena. There is the existence of antinomic hegemonic ambitions on both sides. Thus, France taking part in the Greece/Turkey conflict has a deeper meaning. As J. Barnes-Dacey stated: “There is a sense in Paris that Turkey poses a wider strategic threat to French and European interests across the Mediterranean” (Gorvett, 2020). 

Turkey has a growing influence in countries as Tunisia, Algeria, or Libya. These countries used to belong to both the Ottoman Empire, which came from Turkish tribes, and to France (Gorvett, 2020). Therefore, both of them want to keep the hegemonic influence in this region. In other words, there is a war of influence between the two countries, which may shed some light on recent French decisions regarding aid to Greece.

For instance, the two countries are particularly opposed when it comes to Libya, since the end of Gaddafi’s reign in 2011. As Libya is divided between two governments, Macron denounced the « criminal responsibility » of Ankara, because of its military help to the GNA, one of the Libyan governments. Moreover, France accuses Turkey not to respect the weapons embargo in Libya, selling them to Syrian jihadists that fight against GNA’s opponents (Durand, 2020). Last June, tensions were at their peak when France accused the Turkish navy to have threatened one of its warships that was meant to reinforce the embargo. 

As D.Billion explained: « despite the historical depth of relations between France and Turkey, a lack of understanding has developed over the last few years » (Billion, 2016). This deterioration of their relationship is bringing them to be more and more suspicious of each other.


Different scales merging into a single action 

As presented above, there can be multiple reasons for French intervention in a conflict that does not concern the country directly. On the one hand, France may be trying to defend the European Union at the same time as its own influence within the European Union. Perhaps according to its vision, if one EU country is threatened, the whole Union is threatened. Moreover, French interference is reinforcing the idea of a real « European Defense Union » as well as military solidarity. Besides, France may want to epitomize the defense of European values

On the other hand, France may be trying to undermine Turkey’s power and influence on the international frame. Turkey’s desire to become an increasingly powerful country may suffer a penalty as a result of this confrontation. Moreover, by confronting Turkey, France anchors its position against them on the international stage, as a result of a rise in their disagreements. 

Nevertheless, this decision is not completely against France’s logic, and the reasons themselves are not completely opposed. On the contrary, it seems to be fitting perfectly in its strategic guidelines of foreign policy. 



Bibliography (A-G)

Billion, D., 2016. France – Turquie : entre tensions et normalisations. Confluences Méditerranée, N° 96(1), pp.71-83. 2013. Conclusions Of The European Council. [online] Available at:

Durand, M., 2020. Méditerranée Orientale, Libye : Pourquoi La Tension Monte Entre La France Et La Turquie. [online] Europe 1. Available at: 2017. President Macron Gives Speech On New Initiative For Europe. [online] Available at:

France 24, 2020. Tensions En Méditerrannée : La Grèce Annonce L’achat De 18 Rafale À La France. [online] France 24. Available at:éditerrannée-la-grèce-annonce-l-achat-de-18-rafale-à-la-france.

Gorvett, J., 2020. France On The Move In The Eastern Mediterranean | Cyprus Mail. [online] Cyprus Mail. Available at:


Bibliography (H-Z)

Koundouno, T., 2020. France Boosts Eastern Mediterranean Military Presence To Counter Turkey. [online] Morocco World News. Available at:

Krotz, U., 2002. National Role Conceptions And Foreign Policies. Cambridge, MA: Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University.

Lagneau, L., 2020. M. Macron A Décidé De Renforcer “Temporairement” La Présence Militaire Française En Méditerranée Orientale | Zone Militaire. [online] Zone Militaire. Available at:

Lefebvre, M., 2019. La Politique Étrangère De La France Entre Modernité Et Traditions. [online] Available at:

Ministère des armées, 2020. Communiqué_Renforcement De La Coopération En Méditerranée Orientale. [online] Available at:

Ministre des armées, 2020. Communiqué_La Ministre Des Armées Salue Le Souhait De La Grèce D’Acquérir Des Rafale. [online] Available at:




Autore dell’articolo*: Juline Lefevre-Lancelot, studentessa di Political Science, Law, Economics and Interntional Relations at Sciences Po Lille. Come sempre pubblichiamo i nostri lavori per stimolare altre riflessioni, che possano portare ad integrazioni e approfondimenti. 


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