France wins EU backing in submarine row with US

Published September 22, 2021
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in this file photo. — Reuters/File
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in this file photo. — Reuters/File

BRUSSELS: European ministers rallied around France on Tuesday over the US and Australian decision to strip Paris of a submarine supply contract, as the dispute threatened to delay trade talks with Washington and Canberra.

German Europe Minister Michael Roth said France’s diplomatic crisis with the US was a “wake-up call for all of us” on the importance of uniting an often divided EU on foreign and security policy.

Europe broke its silence and backed a furious France, which has accused the United States, Australia and Britain of working behind its back to negotiate their AUKUS defence pact and replace Canberra’s multi-billion-dollar order of French submarines with a US contract.

The show of solidarity from Germany and the EU’s top officials was welcomed by France, which said the breakdown of trust with Washington strengthened the case for Europe to set its own strategic course.

France’s minister for European affairs Clement Beaune called the row “a European issue” not simply a French one, as arrived at ministerial talks in Brussels, with the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan in August also a source of irritation among EU members.

“I don’t think France is overreacting and I don’t think France should overreact. But when a situation... is serious, I think it’s also our responsibility to state it very clearly,” he said.

The European Commission said it was considering whether the diplomatic storm would affect a gathering of a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh on Sept 29 to discuss ways to cooperate on trade and regulate big tech.

“We are analysing the impact that the AUKUS announcement would have on this date,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.

An EU diplomat said France had “floated” the idea of delaying the TTC meeting, though they face opposition from the Baltic republics, which border Russia and set great store in the Nato alliance.

The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the EU’s 27 member states, already said it was looking into delaying negotiations with Australia on Canberra’s three-year bid to secure an EU trade deal.

“It is up to the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to decide,” said another EU diplomat, referring to the president of the commission, the EU chief executive.

Macron and Modi vow to ‘act jointly’

French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday vowed to “act jointly” in the Indo-Pacific region, as a row intensified with Australia and the US over a ditched submarine contract.

Macron’s telephone talks with Modi were timed conspicuously as French anger over an Australian cancellation of a submarine contract in favour of US submarines as part of an alliance with Washington and the UK appeared undiminished.

US officials have said US President Joe Biden is seeking a phone call with Macron to ease tensions, while Macron has taken the unprecedented step of recalling France’s ambassadors to Australia and the United States.

The French presidency said Macron and Modi agreed they would “act jointly in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific area”.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021

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