BRUSSELS: On Tuesday, European ministers rallied around France in response to the United States’ and Australia’s decision to cancel a submarine supply contract with Paris, threatening to derail trade discussions with Washington and Canberra.
France’s diplomatic issue with the United States, according to German Europe Minister Michael Roth, is a “wake-up call for all of us” about the need of uniting an often-divided EU on foreign and security policy.
Europe broke its silence and backed a furious France, which accused the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom of working behind its back to negotiate the AUKUS defense deal and replace Canberra’s multibillion-dollar submarine order with a US contract.
France applauded Germany’s and the EU’s display of support, saying the collapse of confidence with Washington enhanced the case for Europe to choose its own strategic route.
As he came to ministerial discussions in Brussels, France’s minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune, called the row “a European matter,” not just a French one, with the botched US exit from Afghanistan in August also causing annoyance among EU members.
“I don’t believe France is overreacting, and I don’t believe France should. When a situation is serious, though, I believe it is also our job to tell it clearly,” he stated.
The European Commission said it was weighing whether the diplomatic turbulence would affect a meeting of a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh on September 29 to discuss how to cooperate on trade and regulate big business.
“We’re looking into the impact of the AUKUS statement on this date,” said Eric Mamer, a spokesman for the European Commission.
France has “floated” the idea of postponing the TTC summit, according to an EU source, despite objections from the Baltic nations, which border Russia and place significant value in the NATO alliance.
The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the EU’s 27-member states, has previously stated that it is considering delaying Australia’s three-year attempt to secure an EU trade deal.
“It is up to Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, to decide,” said another EU diplomat, referring to the commission’s president, the EU chief Executive.
Macron and Modi vow to ‘act jointly’
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to “act jointly” in the Indo-Pacific area, as tensions with Australia and the United States grew over a cancelled submarine deal.
Macron’s phone call with Modi came at a particularly inconvenient time, as French outrage over an Australian decision to cancel a submarine contract in favor of US submarines as part of an alliance with Washington and the UK remained unabated.
According to US authorities, US President Joe Biden is requesting a phone conversation with Macron to defuse tensions, and Macron has taken the rare step of recalling France’s ambassadors to Australia and the United States.
Macron and Modi agreed to “work collaboratively in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific area,” according to the French presidency.