Sunk! France cries out in indignation at snubbed submarines


The French word deception means deception rather than deception, which makes it one of the infamous “false friends” that the French language abounds in for English speakers trying to learn it. But when Naval Group, the French company that has just lost what has been described in France as “the contract of the century” for 12 attack class submarines, said in a declaration to the French press that it was “a big disappointment“, The false meaning may have been true for once.

Australia rarely makes the headlines in France but when it does, it’s usually for something bad. And from a French perspective, Australia’s decision to turn its back on a deal with France in favor of a nuclear submarine technology offer from Britain and the United States is bad – very bad.

The French feel not only disappointed but deceived, betrayed.

Speaking on France Info, the French equivalent of ABC news radio, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian used the expression “stab in the back”. Newspaper The Parisian declared “In 48 hours, the ‘contract of the century’ has become the commercial snub of the century”, while according to to the French business weekly Challenges, it was equivalent to “a stab in the heart, which no one in France had seen coming.” A Trafalgar shot from which Naval Group will take years to recover.

The Battle of Trafalgar, of course, was the naval engagement of 1805 which effectively ended Napoleon’s ambition to invade England and established British naval supremacy for the next century. Even taking into account the usual hyperbole of the French press, and the fact that the expression “Trafalgar shot” (trafalgar shot) can be used in many contexts in French, it is certainly not insignificant that it has appeared more than once in the French reactions to the cancellation of the contract following a new pact between the Great Brittany, Australia and the United States.

For the French commune of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, headquarters of the Cherbourg naval base where part of the project was to be carried out, the cancellation of the contract will be “a small social and economic earthquake”.

The idea of ​​the Anglosphere as something more than a group of people who speak the same language is widely mocked by Anglophones themselves. But for foreigners, and for the French in particular, it is a simple and obvious reality. What is the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, after all, if not an alliance of “Anglo-Saxon powers”, so much so that it excludes countries like France and Japan while including New Zealand? , which is not at all a power?

Members of the Naval Group, the French government and French journalists covering defense issues have long been angry at what they see as bias against France in the Australian media and major political parties. Why else would Naval Group have been forced, in a series of torturous negotiations which now seem ludicrous in view of the contract’s permanent cancellation, to spend at least 60% of the contract value in Australia, then that the American company Lockheed Martin, responsible for integrating the submarine’s combat system, has not been subjected to the same pressure?

For the French commune of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, headquarters of the Cherbourg naval base where part of the project was to be carried out, the cancellation of the contract will be “a small social and economic earthquake”, noted West France, the most widely read French-language newspaper in the world despite, or perhaps because of, its emphasis on regional issues.

The people of Cherbourg have made a real effort to welcome the Australians and their families who have come to work or train at the base. In 2019, a symbol of what was meant to be a long-term partnership, Australian artists Elizabeth Close and James Cochran were commissioned to paint one side of the local police station with a massive mural inspired by Aboriginal art. The presence of Australians was even a factor in the creation of the region’s only bilingual public school.

So it will hurt. It hurts already. In particular, it’s a slap in the face for President Emmanuel Macron – another, having been earlier this year literally slapped in the face shaking hands with the public, by a man described in the French media as “passionate about medieval combat”. This incident led to a distinctly French outburst of anger among intellectuals and media figures over the “national decline”, further evidence which many people will see in Australia’s decision to go with the United States and the Great Britain. -Brittany.

Australia has inflicted a personal blow and given ammunition to Emmanuel Macron’s domestic political opponents less than a year after a presidential election (Ludovic Marin / AFP via Getty Images)

Macron put himself in danger to support the submarine deal, despite being inherited from a previous regime. In June, he met Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Paris on his return from the G7 summit in England to discuss several topics including ongoing issues with the project. This meeting was such a success, from a French point of view, that it was reported under headings like “The contract of the century is saved”. Did something get lost in the translation, even though Macron speaks pretty good English? Or has the Anglo-American offer of nuclear submarine technology come as a real surprise to Australians?

Australia has inflicted a personal blow and ammunition on Macron’s domestic political opponents in the year following a presidential election, and while this is unlikely to really influence the outcome, he will not forget it. certainly not. Could that, or French resentment more generally, be a problem for Australia? France as an Indo-Pacific power is a lot like what Gandhi is supposed to have said about Western civilization: that would be a good idea. But one of the reasons Australia signed the now infamous submarine deal with France is that France has a genuine interest in the region.

The French, rightly or wrongly, will now see Uncle Sam’s long arm in all the events that led to the decision to terminate the contract.

Of course, “the Indo-Pacific space is a geographical reality for France”. This apparently tautological statement, taken from the introduction of the French Indo-Pacific Strategy Document 2018, refers to the fact that 93% of France’s exclusive economic zone – the largest in the world – is located in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, while around 1.5 million French citizens and 8,000 military personnel reside there on French territories. Indeed, the curious term “Indo-Pacific” was perhaps coined to give weight to France’s claim to be more than a European power, and perhaps an African one. None of the French overseas territories, taken in isolation, represent much in terms of power politics, but taken together they at least seem to add to the potential to play a real role in the region.

Of course, Australia’s generally very good relationship with France hinges on much more than the submarine deal, and like everyone else in any balancing coalition against China, that will be in the best interest. personal – or not – that will really push France to participate. inside.

And the decision to cancel the deal may have been the right one, all things considered. You can’t spare everyone’s feelings all the time, the French will get over it, and Australia’s relationship with the United States is, after all, much more important than the relationship with France. I just hope it was worth it.

As for France’s relations with Britain and the United States, let’s say this affair won’t help. Brexit has strained relations between London and Paris, but the French, rightly or wrongly, will now see Uncle Sam’s long arm in all the events that led to the decision to cancel the contract. Macron and Joe Biden don’t like each other very much, unsurprisingly given the differences between them. And the unilateral decision to withdraw from Afghanistan remains in the throats of many Europeans.

Tension between Paris and Washington? The more it changes.