AUKUS pact strains French diplomatic relations

Boris Johnson urged Emmanuel Macron to “prenez un grip” after France expressed their anger over the deal. Source: Andrew Parsons (via. Flickr).

By Haris Hussnain | Contributor

The AUKUS pact – a security pact made between the UK, US and Australia that enables Australia to acquire nuclear technology from the US – has left France’s $65bn (£48bn) submarine deal with Australia in tatters, angering French diplomats. The deal has meant Australia would instead acquire nuclear-powered submarines, courtesy of the UK and US. The main aim of the pact is to counter China’s influence in the South China Sea.

The pact has significantly strained Australia-France relations since Australia reneged on a deal brokered in 2016 that would have supplied Australia with a fleet of diesel-powered submarines commissioned by French company Naval Group, earning billions for France. Instead, Australia chose to pursue a security alliance with the UK and US, discussed via video conferencing involving President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. All this was done without the French knowing, creating further outrage in Paris.

The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the whole incident as “a stab in the back”, and many French officials have stated that they were blindsided by Australia striking up an alternative deal whilst talks about the French deal were still ongoing. Despite France being a long-standing ally of the UK and US, the government was only made aware of the pact when it was publicly announced.

The AUKUS situation has also increased tensions with the UK – in response to the deal the French defence minister Florence Parly canceled a talk with her British counterpart, Ben Wallace. The French Government went on to recall their ambassadors back from America and Australia in protest of the new deal. However over the past week, France confirmed they would send their Australian ambassador back to secure French interests in the Indo-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson in turn stated that France was overreacting, and needed to “prenez un grip (get a grip)”. Though he and President Emmanuel Macron sought to mend relations by discussing shared concerns, the strain on Anglo-French relations have instead deepened, with rows over fishing licenses and issues with the English channel. 

The UK has refused to grant a number of French fishermen fishing licenses, an aspect of the post-Brexit trade deal the UK had previously agreed to. The UK stated that it will give 12 out of the 47 licenses agreed upon to EU fishermen, angering French officials and further weakening relations, leading to France putting pressure on the UK government to comply with the full Brexit agreement.

France’s minister for European affairs, Clément Beaune, stated that they may cut off the energy supply to Jersey and the UK if the post-Brexit agreement is not “implemented fully”.

The AUKUS deal is not the only case of fraught French relations in a short span; relations with Mali worsened after Macron made blunt statements to French media about the country’s military authorities, and many Algerians took offence at comments he made that seemed to overlook the brutal French colonisation of Algeria and subsequent conflict between France and Algerian independence fighters.

Macron has seemingly made some effort to repair relations following these tensions, but it cannot have been the easiest week for those working in the French foreign office.

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