European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said France has been treated unacceptably by Australia and the EU will need answers before relations return to normal, as a row over a submarine contract threatens to halt a trade deal with Canberra.
Paris reacted furiously after Australia ditched a deal worth more than 50 billion euros to sign a new defense cooperation agreement with the United States and Britain that would secure nuclear-powered submarines, while seeking allies to resist growing Chinese power. In the Indo-Pacific region.
“There are a lot of open questions that need to be answered. One of our member countries was treated unacceptable, so we want to know what happened and why,” Dr. von der Leyen said in an interview with CNN. To carry on with business as usual.”
The intervention follows pressure from France for support in the row, and reiterates France’s Europe Minister Clement Bonn’s suggestion that Paris could block further progress on the EU-Australia trade deal.
“Keeping one’s word is a condition of trust between democracies and among allies,” Mr. Bohn told Politico. “So it makes no sense to go ahead with trade negotiations as if nothing had happened with a country we no longer trust.”
Trade deals require unanimous support from the 27 member states to be adopted. The twelfth round of negotiations on the plan to ease trade barriers was expected to take place next month, and Australia had initially hoped to strike a deal by the end of this year.
The row, which has seen Paris recall its ambassadors to Australia and the United States in an unusual sign of attack, dominate diplomatic discussions as the United Nations General Assembly kicks off in New York.
It is set to be the main topic of discussion as EU member states gather for discussions on the sidelines of the conference.
France has asked other EU member states to open talks on the future of transatlantic relations and on the union’s common defense strategy in light of the development, ahead of the European summit on defense to be held by President Emmanuel Macron, when France takes over the EU presidency. The rotating presidency of the European Union next year.
Paris has long pushed for the European Union to shape its own course independently of NATO, describing the events as confirmation that Europe cannot rely on its partnership with the United States to secure its strategic interests, despite the friendship overtures from the new administration of President Joe. Biden after the difficult years of Trump.
However, it is not at all clear that other EU member states are unanimous in supporting Paris. The German Defense Ministry announced the signing of a new letter of intent on a military space partnership with Australia in Berlin on Monday, and Eastern European member states have long had reservations about France’s advocacy of self-reliance in Europe, seeing it as a potential challenge to the alliance with the United States.
Aside from its anger over the submarine deal’s cancellation, France has been furious at the lack of consultation before the move, which it sees as cutting it off from defense cooperation in a region in which it invests heavily.
Officials also expressed dismay at the lack of warning from Canberra, which reiterated the “significance” of the deal in a statement in August. France’s ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thibault, called the move a “betrayal” and a “crime” that had seen France “deliberately taken for 18 months”.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the accusations, however, citing long-standing doubts about a deal marred by delays and cost overruns, and said he would never regret a “decision to put Australia’s national interest first”.
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