France is set to sell 52 Caesar artillery guns to the Czech Republic in a deal worth 257 million euros as Paris pushes for greater European defence autonomy, an Armed Forces Ministry official said on Wednesday. President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Europe needed to stop being naive when it comes to defending its interests and must build its own military capacity after sealing a 3 billion euros frigate deal with Greece and penning a cooperation agreement.
Paris was plunged into a dispute with the United States, Australia and Britain earlier this month over a trilateral nuclear security deal that sank a multi-billion dollar French-designed submarine contract with Canberra.
“This (Czech deal) comes after a period of rapprochement with the Czech Republic that was marked on a strategic level, but also a vision that is closer to what European defence policy should be and should bring us,” the official told reporters ahead of a visit by Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly to Prague on Thursday to sign the contract.
Most of the guns will be assembled in the Czech Republic.
France has also sought to bring European allies into military operations in the Sahel region of Africa where it has some 5,000 counter-terrorism troops fighting Islamist militants as part of efforts to encourage a broader European military strategy.
The Czechs are one of nine countries that have contributed special forces to a European contingent.
Speaking for the first time on the AUKUS deal, Macron on Tuesday seized the opportunity to urge for more European autonomy as Washington increasingly reorientates its interests towards China and the Indo-Pacific.
“The Europeans must stop being naive. When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden (their stance), we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things, but protecting ourselves,” Macron told a news conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“This isn’t an alternative to the United States alliance.
“It’s not a substitution, but to take responsibility of the European pillar within NATO and draw the conclusions that we are asked to take care of our own protection.”
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When asked whether this deal risked raising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Macron said the accord did not target a country specifically, but Greece, as the outer border of the European Union needed to be protected.
“I don’t get the feeling that in the summer of 2020 it was Greece that was bellicose in the eastern Mediterranean,” Macron said, alluding to Turkish actions in the region.
“As Europeans it is our duty to show solidarity with members states. It is legitimate that we commit to equipping it so it can ensure its territorial integrity is respected and that we commit to cooperating to protect it in case of intrusions, attacks or aggressions,” he said.