A few months before the French presidential elections, Australia suddenly announced its withdrawal from the contract with France to supply 12 submarines, thus weakening the chances of Emmanuel Macron’s success in the electoral race.
After celebrating the signing of the “Decade of the Century” in 2016 to supply 12 attack submarines to Canberra and maintain them for 50 years for 56 billion euros, France was able to confirm the importance of its strategic role in the Asia-Pacific region, and succeeded in promoting the reliability of its naval and military construction.
However, in a shocking step, Australian President Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday, September 15, that he torpedoed the agreement signed with Paris and the agreement with Washington and Canada to supply his country with American nuclear submarines, within the framework of the new strategic security partnership announced between the three countries under the name “Aukus” agreement.
If the Australian decision is a painful blow to France, it is at the same level a major blow to French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been preparing for some time to run in the electoral race with a heavy record of defeats and challenges, in addition to his failure to strengthen the historical partnership with Australia.
A violent tremor for France and a diplomatic failure for Macron
Since 2014, during the administration of former French President Francois Hollande, France has intensified its round of negotiations with Australia, to reach a military and commercial agreement to provide the latter with conventional attack submarines.
At that time, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian succeeded in persuading Australia to sign the largest arms contract in history to modernize its submarine fleet, outperforming the competition of the German “TKMS” group and the “consortium” led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and supported by the Japanese government.
At the time, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told French President Francois Hollande that “the 12 submarines that France will build for his country will be the most advanced ships in the world.”
However, the agreement concluded between the two sides witnessed many obstacles and problems during the implementation period, contrary to everyone’s expectations, until it sometimes caused sharp differences between the two parties that were criticized by politicians and officials, considering that the clouds were accumulating on the “decade of the century” for a long time. While Australian officials considered in 2017 that France had not invested enough in the project, and this was a sign that Paris did not attach importance to the strategic partnership with Canberra.
Although it was not disclosed at any time about the possibility of Australia withdrawing from the agreement, even two weeks before Morrison’s sudden decision held a bilateral meeting between the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries, at the end of which announced the strengthening of military cooperation between France and Australia, Canberra surprised its ally by turning From a commercial, military and strategic point of view, it decided to tear up the agreement and replace it with the agreement to acquire American nuclear propulsion submarines.
Le plus grand contrat militaire français, conclu avec l’Australie, vient d’être annulé. La France n’est plus respectée par ses alliés. Notre redressement diplomatique doit être une priorité nationale.— Xavier Bertrand (@xavierbertrand) September 16, 2021
The blow was severe for Paris, as much as it causes a heavy loss to the NAVAL GROUP producing company and the military industries sector, it is also considered, in the opinion of the French, as a disdain and insult to France, and even a humiliation to it, as stated by several politicians and activists.
French President Emmanuel Macron bears the primary responsibility for this, according to experts and analysts.
If the “decade of the century” was a gain and a success for François Hollande, today it is a loss and a setback for Emmanuel Macron, who was unable to strengthen the agreement and ensure its success and continuity. While Paris was counting on maintaining its naval presence in the region, and expressed this through its sale of attack submarines to Malaysia in 2002, its strategic role in the region began to decline and it began to lose its most important global markets.
Moreover, the French, who have long praised France’s greatness on de Gaulle’s doctrine, see that Australia’s withdrawal from the agreement is a clear sign that France has lost the respect of its allies for it, and this is a great condemnation of Macron because of his diplomatic weakness.
“What a disastrous record for Macron on national independence,” said Senator LR Valerie Boyer.
Opposition attacks Macron
French political reactions followed, condemning Australia’s unilateral and sudden decision, holding the Macron administration responsible and expecting the French government to “provide quick explanations” for the serious military, commercial and diplomatic failure, according to statements by politicians and activists.
The opposition began to raise urgent questions about the reality of the strategy drawn by France in the Indo-Pacific, the area of tension between China and the United States, from which it seems that it may gradually move away from it if it continues on its current paths.
It is expected that a government accountability session will be held on September 21 to demand the formation of a parliamentary investigation committee to shed light on this tripartite commercial, military and diplomatic failure, and to verify whether monitoring the contract during its implementation is sufficient.
In the same context, Marine Le Pen wrote in a tweet on her Twitter account: “A triple economic, military and political disaster. A public humiliation of France and a very serious attack on its image as an industrial power. We demand the formation of a commission of inquiry into this case.”
🖋 Triple désastre, économique, militaire, politique de l’annulation par l’#Australie du contrat des sous-marins : je demande qu’une commission d’enquête fasse toute la lumière sur ce naufrage. #NavalGroup— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) September 16, 2021
Mon communiqué ⤵️https://t.co/ZGVDytRc6I
For his part, the right-wing parliamentarian Alpes Maritimes considered that the cancellation of the contract is a sign of the loss of French influence under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. Valerie Pecres said it was a sign of “diplomatic contempt”. In the meantime, some calls and demands were made to the French government to consider leaving NATO.
Meanwhile, the French official authorities are studying the economic, military and diplomatic repercussions, expressing their displeasure and protest against the decision of their allies, which dealt them a painful blow similar to a stab in the back, in the words of French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.