French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd g) with then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (3rd d) on the deck of HMAS Waller on May 2, 2018 in Sydney (POOL/AFP/Archives/Ludovic MARIN)
Australia on Saturday unveiled a massive compensation deal with French submarine maker Naval Group, putting a financial end to a dispute that has soured relations between Canberra and Paris for nearly a year.
Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the French firm has agreed to a “fair and equitable settlement” of €555 million for breaking a massive €56 billion contract that sparked a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Canberra last fall.
In September 2021, then Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suddenly ended the French contract that had been in preparation for ten years.
The head of government announced that his country would buy American or British nuclear-powered submarines, a major change for a country with weak nuclear capabilities.
Mr Morrison then drew the wrath of French President Emmanuel Macron who accused him of deception and recalled his Australian ambassador in protest.
Relations between the two countries remained frosty until the election in May of centre-left Mr Albanese.
Naval Group logo on May 8, 2022 in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin (AFP/Archives/Sameer Al-DOUMY)
Since coming to power, he has rushed to mend strained relations with France, New Zealand and Pacific island nations who blamed the previous Conservative government for its slow pace on climate change.
“We are in the process of restoring a better relationship between Australia and France,” Mr Albanese said, saying he was “looking forward to responding to President Macron’s invitation to me to come to Paris at the first chance”.
– Master piece –
In total, the failure of the French submarine contract will have cost 2.4 billion dollars to Australian taxpayers, specified their Prime Minister, without them being able to derive any benefit from it.
The submarine contract is the centerpiece of Australia’s defense strategy against China’s growing influence in the region under Xi Jinping’s presidency.
Australia’s then Minister of Defense Peter Dutton (c) with US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Goldman (r) and British High Commissioner Victoria Treadell (l) on November 22, 2021 after signing an agreement in Canberra on nuclear-powered submarines (Australian Defense Force/AFP/Kym Smith)
Nuclear-powered submarines could allow Australia to operate more stealthily and deterrently from China.
But there is great uncertainty about when Australia will actually be able to own these devices.
The first American or British submarine is unlikely to be in service for decades, leaving a void for Australia whose current fleet is aging.
The choice of supplier will have significant economic impact and strategic implications, closely linking the Australian Navy to that of the chosen nation.
Former defense minister and current opposition leader Peter Dutton said this week he had decided to source supplies from the United States, an unusual revelation given the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations.
The current government has insisted that no decision has yet been made.
© 2022 AFP
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