France is furious. Australia had a deal with the country for submarine delivery but got out of there unexpectedly. It feels like betrayal to the French. And that is also hard in Cherbourg, the Norman town where the submarine would be built.
“With allies like Australia and the United States, we don‘t need any more enemies.” Emmanuel Lequartier is hard to hide his bitterness. “It was announced as the contract of the century and now we are hit hard.” He is a spokesperson for the Communist CBT, one of the two largest trade unions in the Naval group and has daily contact with worries: “It’s a shock that comes close.”
“The Australian flag has been removed immediately,” he says. And indeed only the Norman, French and European flags are flying in front of the Naval building. A flagpole seems empty.
In the Norman port city of Cherbourg, anger and mistrust reigns after the contract with Australia:
Jean-Michel Houllegatte is former mayor of Cherbourg. He attended the signing of the contract in Australia in 2016. No one could guess what would happen five years later. “It‘s betrayal,” he says. “As if you suddenly find out you’ve been cheated on by someone who is normally faithful. It‘s a huge disappointment.”
Houllegatte is now a senator of the Socialist Opposition Party and critically follows the defence file. It was he who put the Secretary of Defense to the fire this week: “Did none of the cabinet see it coming? And what are the socio-economic consequences for his Norman port city?” Yet he is not convinced that the French Government is far to reproach. It was robbed. “For the government, it’s a humiliation, a betrayal.”
He thinks it‘s the time to take a new path. With a warning: “Beware, the current diplomatic course is not the right one.”
Humiliations for France pile
France as a diplomatic and defence force in the world. It seemed like an obsession to President Macron. But in the meantime the humiliations are accumulating. First there was the US withdrawal from Afghanistan without consultation. And now the affair with the submarine. The French see it as double betrayal because it also affects the European Union. “It’s a disastrous signal to the allies. It‘s something Trump could have done, but worse,” said Nicolas Baverez, economist, historian and defence analyst.
Baverez published a report with proposals for a new French and European defence in the 21st century at the Montaigne Institute in Paris in February this year. In March he was heard about his findings by the Defence Commission of the French Parliament.
Baverez is not surprised, but he is very shocked at the new AUKUS alliance. “Allies rarely break a contract that is already being executed. After six months of secret negotiations and deliberate deception from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Opposite their oldest ally, France. That’s more than unusual.”
Baverez believes that the European Union has a concern. “The US has made it clear that NATO is now of minor importance. It was the backbone of the West, the US strategy. The message is that the fight against terror and Russia are now of minor importance. That NATO is now a second-rate alliance. That‘s a big problem, and not just for France.”
Towards “strategic autonomy “?
The Socialist Senator Houllegatte is also bitter about the alliance. “NATO still has the right to exist, but President Macron said it himself: “NATO is brain dead.”
“And,” he cynically concludes, “NATO is in fact just an agreement.” He expects a European defence to overshadow NATO.
France wants a “strategic autonomy.” In 2017, President Macron talked about greater independence in the field of defence. The EU no longer had to rely on NATO and ‘fight for its future‘ independently.
Yet there is reality as well. Many European Member States, including the Netherlands, still fail to meet the 2% NATO standard of the Gross Domestic Product. And it lacks a European armed force or vision. While the EU is surrounded by unstable states such as Libya and Belarus.
Defence analyst Baverez: “This continent is a vacuum, in terms of security. If you look across borders from the Baltic States to Gibraltar, you’ll see all areas where war, crisis or turmoil prevails. We are surrounded by young populations who grow strongly and have poor and lots of weapons. While we are an ancient continent that sees itself as peaceful and rich and demilitarized. History shows that such a situation never rightexpires.”
Checking external borders
Money for armaments should not be a problem, according to Baverez. “During the corona crisis, 750 billion euros were also suddenly available. That can also be used for safety.” He believes that Europeans can be convinced by concrete projects with the least waste of money. “How do we control our external borders? That is in everyone‘s interest and European citizens will support it.”
Senator Houllegatte believes that the European Union should not give away its place on the world stage. “We should not confront China. Australia chooses to lose its sovereignty. That’s new. Let us strengthen European diplomacy. So that we Europeans can offer a ‘third way’ between China and the Atlantic bloc. That is the European path, of wisdom and the ratio. But we must have a stick behind the door: Defence.”
France will be European President on 1 January. And even though the German political situation may still be uncertain, the French will be heavily committed to a joint European defence project. Analyst Nicolas Baverez hopes the events of recent months have shaken European member states. “No country has an alternative to that European strategy. If we fail to shape European security, there will be no safety.”