Brussels (Brussels Morning) France’s President Emmanuel Macron accused Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying to him over last September’s controversial submarine fleet construction contract, making it clear that more efforts will be needed to repair the broken trust between the two countries.
The two leaders met in Rome for the G20 summit for the first time since relations were soured by Australia joining the AUKUS pact with the US and the UK in September, after it abandoned its plans to purchase a fleet of conventional attack submarines from France.
Australia commissioned eight conventional, diesel-powered submarines from the French military shipyard Naval Group in 2016, a project mired in delays and cost overruns. Many of the problems stemmed from the fact that France had to adapt its nuclear submarine designs to accommodate diesel-electric propulsion, since Australia resolutely refused using nuclear submarines.
However, on joining AUKUS, Canberra announced it would be building a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines in partnership with the US and the UK, walking away from the French deal, reportedly having offered little or no forewarning to Paris. French officials were told the deal was still on as recently as two weeks before the public cancellation. France claimed it found out about the AUKUS pact more or less at the same time as the three leaders involved in that deal made announced it on television.
Asked in Rome on Sunday whether he thinks Morrison lied to him, Macron said: “I don’t think, I know.” The French President assured Australian reporters of his respect and friendship for Australians, while noting that one “has to be true and to behave in line, and consistently with this value”.
Later on Sunday, Morrison told reporters he did not lie, and claimed he informed Macron previously that conventional submarines could no longer meet Australia’s strategic needs.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden conceded that the handling of the announcement of the new pact was clumsy, but said he believed France had been informed that of the cancellation of the sub procurement contract before the pact was publicly announced.