The French ambassadors to the US and Australia have been summoned back to Paris for consultations. Honestly, I expected France and the EU’s relationship with the United States to break down under the Trump administration but, they held it together for four years. So, this new development is shocking and very concerning.
To break it down in simple terms, let me explain how and why this happened. In December 2016, Australia signed a contract with French shipbuilder, Naval Group, to build a new fleet. Unfortunately, Australia has decided to scrap that agreement and join forces with the US and Britain. The US and Britain will assist Canberra in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines and with this development, Australia’s navy will have the resources to counter China’s expansion of its military might and influence in the indo-pacific region.
For France, this act signifies a fundamental and calculated change. It questions the very nature of the Franco-US alliance and the Franco- UK alliance, which is already under tremendous strain because of Brexit. The United States is playing down this recall and talking about the situation as if it were just a minor disagreement.
One can look at both sides of the coin. On one side, the US must solidify its dominance and alliances in the indo-pacific region to contain China. On the other side, doing this has thrown one of its greatest allies under the bus. Typically, the media in the US is tagging the reaction as a political tantrum. However, they fail to acknowledge that this is beyond the breakdown of a deal between France and Australia. What the US has done is not something you would expect from an ally. France is justified and is tired of tolerating light bullying from the US in the name of allyship when the relationship means nothing to them. I believe that it was not an impossibility for the United States to bring France into the new security deal with Australia.
The French minister of foreign affairs and the armed forces issued a joint statement on Thursday saying that “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 European Union has also hinted at its disappointment. The EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said, “We must survive on our own, as others do”.
Presently, Europe’s position in the world has been thrown ever so violently into question. In the shadow of the US-China confrontation, a global realignment is happening with the emergence of new actors and new alliances. What will be the fate of the EU after this realignment? Where will its place in the world be?