France rebukes Australia after it ditches submarine deal

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PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 15: French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (L) prior to a working dinner at the Elysee Presidential Palace on June 15, 2021.

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LONDON — France is not holding back showing its disappointment with Australia after it abruptly ended a submarine contract in order to sign a new deal with the U.S. and U.K.

“It was a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s minister of foreign affairs, told radio station Franceinfo Thursday morning.

Australia had signed a contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group in 2016 to build a new fleet, at a cost of $40 billion, according to Reuters. Both sides had confirmed the deal a couple of weeks ago. However, Canberra has now decided to scrap that agreement and join forces with the U.S. and Britain.

Late on Wednesday, the three nations announced a new security partnership where Australia will receive new nuclear-powered submarines. The deal with France would have provided conventional submarines.

“We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide in close cooperation with the U.K. and the U.S. But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter.

He added that France is a “good partner” and that the new deal was motivated by “a changed strategic environment,” according to France 24.

Bitter relations

US President Joe Biden speaks on national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15, 2021.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

France’s ministers of foreign affairs and the armed forces also said in a joint statement on Thursday: “The American choice which leads to the removal of an ally and a European partner like France from structuring a partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region … marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret.”

The statement added that the latest developments intensify the need for European strategic autonomy — the idea that the European Union should become more independent with its defense and security policies.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, presented its strategy for the Indo-Pacific region on Thursday afternoon in Brussels. EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said, “We must survive on our own, as others do.”

A spokesperson for the White House or the Australian Embassy in London wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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