«Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Greece has spent an estimated €216bn on armaments, although I am 100% certain that in absolute terms its defence expenditure is much greater than official documents would show due to the so-called secret funds the state has access to,» said Katerina Tsoukala, a Brussels-based security expert.
«The problem is that unlike Britain, for example, Greece has never had a transparent and democratic defence procurement strategy. Instead, everything is veiled in secrecy and people like me have to go to Sipri to find out information that in other countries would be readily available.»
«If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defence it is Germany,» said Dimitris Papadimoulis, an MP with the Coalition of the Radical Left party.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), France is not far behind. Some 10% of its total arms sales go to Greece, which is a member of Nato. From 2002 to 2006, Greece was the world’s fourth biggest importer of conventional weapons. It is now the 10th.
«As a proportion of GDP, Greece spends twice as much as any other EU member on defence,» said Papadimoulis, who is also a former MEP.
«Well after the economic crisis had begun, Germany and France were trying to seal lucrative weapons deals even as they were pushing us to make deep cuts in areas like health.»
Under the latest EU-IMF-sponsored rescue programme – which is propping up the near-bankrupt Greek economy with an extra €130bn in emergency loans until 2015 – Athens has agreed to cut defence expenditure by €400m. Even so, its military budget accounts for nearly 4% of national economic output, compared with the eurozone average of around 2%. The country has cited perceived security risks from Turkey and, in addition to state-of-the-art submarines, has bought hundreds of Leopard tanks, howitzers, Mirage fighter planes and F-16 jets from Germany, France and the US since the late 1990s.
Speculation is rife that international aid was dependent on Greece following through on agreements to buy military hardware from Germany and France.