EU should stop being ‘naive’ about US strategic interests, says Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron has said Europe needs to stop being “naive” and shore up its own military power, following the signing of a security pact between Australia, the US and the UK in the Indo-Pacific.
In his first comments since the so-called Aukus agreement was announced and a French-led $36bn submarine agreement was scrapped, Macron on Tuesday stressed the need for “Europe to take care of its own protection” and show “solidarity” between member states.
Speaking at the Elysée Palace after the signing of a €3bn frigate contract with Greece, he said: “We are forced to note that for a little more than 10 years now the United States of America has put itself and its strategic interests first . . . We would be naive, or rather we would be making a terrible mistake, not to . . . grasp all of the consequences this has for ourselves.”
He added: “We need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things but protecting ourselves.”
However, he said the US would remain an ally to the French and a strengthening of European strategic ties did not serve as a “substitute” for that alliance.
The French leader’s call for a bolder EU defence strategy follows on the heels of anger in the country over the Aukus agreement, which has caused the biggest diplomatic dispute among western allies since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The comments came as Macron and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled a military contract for the purchase of three Belharra frigates to be built in France by the state-controlled Naval Group, the same company that was due to provide 12 submarines to Australia that were cancelled after Canberra opted for US submarines instead.
The Greek contract provides an option for the inclusion of an additional frigate should the Greek navy require it. Earlier this year, Athens agreed to purchase up to 24 French Rafale fighter jets.
Mitsotakis said the deal would herald a “strategic partnership for co-operation in defence and security”, meaning that France would commit to backing Greece if tensions rose again with Turkey. Greece would never forget the help it received from France during the summer of 2020 when Turkey laid claim to possible offshore oil and gas reserves in disputed waters off Cyprus, he added.
“Our agreement paves the way for an autonomous and strong future Europe. A Europe that can defend its interests in its wider neighbourhood, in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in the Sahel,” said Mitsotakis.
The Greek contract was a “sign of confidence as well as a demonstration of the quality offered by France”, Macron said.
He downplayed the impact of the cancellation of the Australian contract. The economic fallout would be “limited” to “a few hundred jobs, mainly in engineering” because the submarines were to have been built in Adelaide, he said. France’s Indo-Pacific strategy would not be affected, Macron insisted, adding that the French ambassador to the US, who had been recalled in protest over the Aukus deal, would be returning to Washington on Wednesday.
Macron has seized on the Aukus crisis to re-energise EU defence plans, even though the French contract did not involve any other EU member states, noted Michel Duclos, special adviser to Institut Montaigne. “The French have been very good at putting the European flag on this matter,” he added.
Anna Gross in Paris and Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens