media Ifri in the Media
Thomas GOMART, quoted by Vivienne Walt in Time Magazine

America's Defense Pact with Australia and the U.K. Has Humiliated France's Macron. But It Might Also Help Him

For years, French President Emmanuel Macron butted heads, bit his tongue in frustration, and lashed out at former President Donald Trump, who refused to yield an inch to his entreaties about global cooperation. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change—cherished projects for Macron—and trashed the NATO military alliance as “obsolete.”


Small wonder, then, that Macron hailed President Joe Biden’s victory last November with ebullient excitement, tweeting within moments, “Let’s work together!”

But any hopes for a reinvigorated Franco-American alliance were dashed on Thursday, when Australia revealed it had secretly negotiated a military pact with the U.S. and the U.K., known as AUKUS, in the volatile Indo-Pacific region. The deal, which involves building nuclear-powered military submarines in Australia—China’s nearest Western-allied neighbor—left France completely in the cold.

The three countries hid their agreement from their French ally, which had spent years crafting its own deal to supply Australia with conventional submarines worth an estimated $50 billion; that deal is now off.

The fury from Paris was immediate. Macron promptly summoned home France’s ambassadors to Australia and the U.S. and the detente threatens to harden into the deepest diplomatic rift with Washington in decades, including during the Trump era. “The sense of treason is very strong,” French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault said, as he headed to Paris on the weekend. “It was intentionally decided to keep France completely in the dark.”

As of Tuesday morning, Biden and Macron have yet to talk—a phone meeting is expected this week—but French officials have not held back in their outrage. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the deal as “a stab in the back,” and on Monday, he called the subterfuge between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia “brutal.” “Europeans should not be left by the wayside,” he told reporters in New York. “That is the mindset we are in right now.”


What the feud means for Macron

Macron’s ministers have likely fumed with his tacit approval, but the president himself has so far remained silent. A furious outburst risks severing a bilateral relationship crucial for several urgent issues, from climate change to anti-terrorism.

Yet taking a tough line with the U.S. might also bring political benefits, according to some analysts in Paris, if Macron is able to position himself as a leader standing his ground against the world’s preeminent and arrogant superpower.

Macron faces a difficult election next April for a second five-year term as President, with at least six candidates running against him. His most likely challenger in the second, run-off vote is the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, who has cast Macron as being too eager to act in lockstep with Washington, rather than purely in French interests.


  • “Don’t forget we are campaigning for presidential elections, and in France, it is always easy to fuel a latent anti-Americanism, and very easy to fuel it in the current circumstances,” says Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.
  • “It is not just the industrial deal,” he told TIME on Monday. “It’s the overall attitude of the U.S., which is seen as a continuation from Trump to Biden: A system of alliance without consultation.”

In that, Macron’s feud with Biden could well benefit him among his voters. “They would be delighted if this dustup continues,” says François Heisbourg, special advisor to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “This is a positive for Macron.”

Despite winning political points, however, Macron’s feelings of hurt are palpable, with a sense that his warmth towards Biden was unrequited.

“The anger is deep and abiding,” says Heisbourg, whose organization has been involved in bilateral meetings between France and Australia for the past decade; he has attended several. “Three allies decided to conspire behind the back of a fourth ally, keeping secrets, and depriving the fourth ally of billions of euros,” he says. “In essence, this was a cabal.”


Copyright Time Magazine

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Emmanuel Macron Joe Biden Transatlantic Relations Etats-Unis France