Debate has reignited over how well (or not) Australia handled the September announcement of the Aukus pact – and its subsequent withdrawal from a lucrative French submarine contract. While the French government claims it was blindsided by the move, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, maintains he acted appropriately and in the country’s national interests.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, the US president, Joe Biden, publicly observed to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, that the episode had been “clumsy”. On Sunday night, as the forum drew to a close, journalists asked Macron if he thought Morrison had lied to him about the plan. “I don’t think, I know,” he replied.
On Monday, with leaders now gathered for Cop26 in Glasgow, Morrison shot back, telling reporters he refused to “cop sledging of Australia”.
But while the diplomatic row has dominated headlines in Australia, French media have not so far showed much interest in the matter. “La crise des sous-marins” seems to be largely a footnote when discussing deteriorating US or cross-channel relations.
On Friday, after Biden said he had been “under the impression that France had been informed”, Le Monde called his claim “somewhat astonishing”.
On Monday morning, Le Parisien’s report noted principally that the incident “sparked a quarrel with the US”. On Monday afternoon, financial journal Les Echos referenced the submarine debate as a sign of London’s “perfidy” and desire to make trouble for Europe – but made no mention of Australia.
On Monday night, Ouest-France reported on Morrison’s stand without further analysis. One French commentator did notice how “furious” the prime minister was over Macron’s accusation.
But with Cop26 under way, Morrison’s comments otherwise got little attention in the French press. Television network BFMTV noted that Australia’s “torpedoing” of the contract had strained France’s relations with the UK, aggravating tensions over the fishing licences – but otherwise made no mention of Morrison.
‘Frexit’ champion François Asselineau has meanwhile suggested Biden lied to Macron – that Morrison’s comments indicate “Biden was obviously fully informed” that France had not been kept in the loop.
While French outlets were somewhat restrained, News Corp Australia tabloids went to town: “PM’s fury at French whine” the Herald Sun’s headline read, while the Daily Telegraph went with “The frog of war”.