France presses EU on trade agreements with Australia in wake of submarine deal

France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the press as he arrives at the EU headquarters' Europa building in Brussels on December 10, 2020, prior to a European Union summit

France is pressuring the European Union on ongoing trade talks with Australia in the wake of Australia’s submarine deal with the United States and United Kingdom, which scuttled a $40 billion defense deal between Australia and France signed in 2016. 

French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said he would raise issues with the new defense deal, dubbed the AUKUS, at upcoming EU summits and ministerial meetings, The Associated Press reported. Beaune told reporters that it was a “matter of trust.”

“When you have your word, it has some value between allies, between democracies, between partners and in this case this word was not respected … so of course it creates a breach of trust,” Beaune said, according to AP. “We have to be firm, not as French but as Europeans, because it’s a matter of the way we work together as allies.”

While the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, conducts trade talks, any trade pact has to be unanimously endorsed by member states, giving individual countries veto power, AP noted. The EU has been negotiating a trade deal with Australia since 2018. 

Asked if France would call for a halt to trade talks, Beaune said “that is among the points that we must discuss together.”

Under the AUKUS, the three nations will work together to see how Australia can best obtain nuclear submarines. This includes cooperation on undersea capabilities and sharing quantum technology.

The French submarines were diesel-powered, and Canberra reportedly became worried they would become outdated as the military competition heats up in the Indo-Pacific. 

“The capability that the Attack class submarines were going to provide was not what Australia needed to protect our sovereign interests,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said over the weekend, according to the AP.  

French officials said they were only given a few hours notice of the agreement before it was announced; however, they reportedly began doubting Australia’s commitment  to their bilateral deal as early as June. 

After the announcement of AUKUS, France canceled a gala planned in Washington, D.C., and recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia over the deal — a first in modern times. 

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to speak with President Biden this week about the deal and its fallout.

Tags Emmanuel Macron Joe Biden Nuclear Submarines submarine deal

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