EU backs France after Australia backs out of France submarine deal

Sept 21, 2021: EU leaders rallied behind France in anger over a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia that was scuppered when Australia signed a tripartite Asia-Pacific security agreement with the United States and Britain.

The security pact, known as the AUKUS, includes the sale of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, and a series of Western summits before the start of the annual gathering of world leaders for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week. Relations amongst western powers are strained.

Speaking after a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the Assembly, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said more co-operation, more co-ordination, less fragmentation by the west was needed to achieve a stable and peaceful region of the Indo-pacific region by curbing China’s rising power. 

The EU’s stance was made clear as Borrell said the bloc’s foreign ministers had expressed clear solidarity with France. He said the announcement was against calls for greater cooperation with the European Union in the Indian Ocean. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday accused the United States of cheating and stabbing Australia in the back.

Le Drian called on Europeans to “think hard” about the alliance, and accused US President Joe Biden’s administration of “unilateral, unpredictable, and disrespectful of his ally” Donald Trump. 

The United States has sought to quell anger in NATO ally and EU member France, and Biden will speak by telephone with French President Emmanuel Macron in the next few days. “We are allies, we talk and we do not hide different strategies. That is why there is a crisis of confidence,” Le Drian said. “So it all needs clarification and explanation. It can take time.”

Australia signed an agreement in 2016 to buy French diesel-powered submarines. The agreement was canceled after the AUKUS agreement gave Australia access to US technology on nuclear-powered ships. France has for years pushed for a EU strategy to boost economic, political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific, extending from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU also announced its plans for the Indo-Pacific last week.

China, which already has nuclear-powered submarines, has condemned the deal, with President Xi Jinping warning on Friday of “external interference” in the region.

China claims Taiwan as its own, is embroiled in maritime disputes with Japan, and makes almost all claims on the South China Sea, where it has built artificial islands for military bases. It has rejected the competitive claims of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam and criticized the US Navy’s so-called “navigation operations” in the region.

European Council President Charles Michel said it was difficult for him to understand the move by Australia, Britain and the United States.

He says it is because Joe Biden’s new administration meant a reset to the US before Donald Trump’s regime. That was the historic message sent by this new administration and now the EU allies have questions. “Is the United States is back? We don’t know, “he told reporters in New York. “We see a clear lack of transparency and loyalty.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, himself a fluent French speaker, tried to block the outcome of the deal in talks with the French ambassador in Washington on Friday. The ambassador was later recalled to Paris in protest. France also recalled its top diplomat in Canberra.

Asked if there would be a bilateral meeting between Blinken and Le Drian, senior State Department official Erica Barks-Ruggles said “the schedule will be dynamic.”

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