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between France and Australia, a contract cancellation to forget

A change of government could only calm relations between the two countries. The French head of state received his recently elected Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, on Friday July 1 to relaunch dialogue after a deep crisis of confidence linked to the breaking of a historic order for twelve diesel-electric submarines.

Anthony Albanese assured at the start of a meeting at the Élysée presidential palace that his presence marked “a new start in relationships” bilateral, emphasizing that “trust, respect and honesty matter”. Emmanuel Macron has expressed a common will “to rebuild a relationship of trust between our two countries, a relationship based on mutual respect”.

“Contract of the Century”

If relations between France and Australia have suffered so much from the cancellation of this order for submarines, it is partly because of the amounts and technologies on which the two parties had agreed. In 2016, Australia is looking for vessels capable of replacing its six Collins-class submarines, reaching their age limit in 2032.

Limited by the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the Australian government places an order for twelve French submersibles with conventional propulsion. The contract stipulates that France undertakes to provide its partner with a certain number of technologies allowing it to build its own submarines, thus assuring it a certain sovereignty in its defense industry.

The amounts committed are colossal. The Australians initial an agreement with Naval Group for more than 34 billion euros, an amount later revalued at 56 billion euros. The current strategic partnership over fifty years, several French observers speak of “deal of the century”.

Breakup

A turning point took place with the coming to power of the conservative Scott Morrison in 2018. Wishing to get closer to his Anglo-Saxon allies to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific, the Prime Minister forged a new alliance in September 2021 with the States United States and the United Kingdom, baptized “Aukus”.

The agreement provides for increased military cooperation and the purchase of eight nuclear-powered submarines. The contract signed five years earlier with France was suddenly cancelled. If the government of Scott Morrison claims to have warned its French partners, Paris ensures that it is not.

At the Quai d’Orsay, people fulminate. Two days after the announcement, the French ambassadors in Washington and Canberra were called back to Paris for consultations, faced with “unacceptable behavior” of one “exceptional gravity”. Former Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accuses the Australian Prime Minister of having “lied” by claiming that he would respect the contract.

A week later, Emmanuel Macron is directly targeting Joe Biden: “We are forced to see that for a little over ten years now, the United States has been very focused on itself and has strategic interests that are reorienting towards China and the Pacific. »

Towards appeasement

The six months that followed were marked by a distancing in diplomatic relations. In Australia, many voices are raised against the way in which the government has suddenly changed course, more than two billion euros having already been paid by the Australian taxpayer.

Two events subsequently triggered a diplomatic thaw. First of all, the departure of Scott Morrison, beaten at the end of May by Labor Anthony Albanese. The defeat of Prime Minister Morrison suits me very well,” had also slipped Jean-Yves Le Drian. Then the announcement on June 11 of a compensation agreement for 555 million euros paid to Naval Group, for the breach of the contract.

Emmanuel Macron and Anthony Albanese have spoken frequently in recent weeks, especially during the NATO summit in Madrid. “We are going to restart things. First of all, there is a Prime Minister whose agenda is much more coherent with the agenda of France”, particularly in terms of the fight for the climate and strategic ambitions in the face of the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific region, underlined Thursday the French president. The Australian Prime Minister declared himself in favor of a “reset” relations with Paris.

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