France wins EU backing in sub row with US
French minister for European affairs Clement Beaune gives a doorstep statement as he arrives for a General Affairs ministers council (GAC)at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on September 21, 2021. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
(AFP) - European ministers rallied around France on Tuesday over the US and Australian decision to strip Paris of a submarine supply contract, as the dispute threatened to delay trade talks with Washington and Canberra.
German Europe Minister Michael Roth said France's diplomatic crisis with the US was a "wake-up call for all of us" on the importance of uniting an often divided EU on foreign and security policy.
Europe broke its silence and backed a furious France, which has accused the United States, Australia and Britain of working behind its back to negotiate their AUKUS defence pact and replace Canberra's multi-billion-dollar order of French submarines with a US contract.
The show of solidarity from Germany and the EU's top officials was welcomed by France, which said the breakdown of trust with Washington strengthened the case for Europe to set its own strategic course.
France's minister for European affairs Clement Beaune called the row "a European issue" not simply a French one, as arrived at ministerial talks in Brussels, with the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan in August also a source of irritation among EU members.
"I don't think France is overreacting and I don't think France should overreact. But when a situation... is serious, I think it's also our responsibility to state it very clearly," he said.
The European Commission said it was considering whether the diplomatic storm would affect a gathering of a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh on September 29 to discuss ways to cooperate on trade and regulate big tech.
"We are analysing the impact that the AUKUS announcement would have on this date," European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.
- 'Irritated' France -
An EU diplomat said France had "floated" the idea of delaying the TTC meeting, though they face opposition from the Baltic republics, which border Russia and set great store in the NATO alliance.
The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the EU's 27 member states, already said on Monday it was looking into delaying negotiations with Australia on Canberra's three-year bid to secure an EU trade deal.
"It is up to the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to decide," said another EU diplomat, referring to the president of the commission, the EU chief executive.
Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, on Monday said the way France had been treated was "unacceptable", though she gave no indication on the fate of the trade talks.
Arnoldas Pranckevicius, the Lithuanian deputy minister for European Affairs, told reporters that overcoming the mistrust would be in the interests of both Europe and the US and that his government would be "the last ... standing in defence of transatlantic unity".
Sweden's EU minister Hans Dahlgren also expressed reservations, saying he understood French irritation but wanted more detail on what had happened over the submarine deal.
"I don't think we should restructure the EU's trade policy because of this," he said.
The creation of an EU-US tech council was agreed at a summit in June. Washington was expected to use it to seek deeper support from the Europeans on curbing the ambitions of emerging superpower China.
© Agence France-Presse