‘The submarine affair’: how the French media reacted to the Morrison and Macron dispute | Australian foreign policy


The debate has reignited over how Australia handled (or not) the September announcement of the Aukus Pact – and its subsequent withdrawal from a lucrative French submarine contract. While the French government claims to have been blinded by this decision, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison maintains that it acted appropriately and in the country’s national interest.

Ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, US President Joe Biden publicly pointed out to French President Emmanuel Macron that the episode had been “awkward”. As the forum neared its end on Sunday evening, reporters asked Macron if he thought Morrison lied to him about the plan. “I don’t think so, I know,” he replied.

On Monday, when leaders were now reunited for Cop26 in Glasgow, Morrison fired back, telling reporters he refused to “toboggan in Australia”.

How the story unfolded: Scott Morrison and Emmanuel Macron's stoush submarine - video
How the story unfolded: Scott Morrison and Emmanuel Macron’s stoush submarine – video

But while the diplomatic row has made headlines in Australia, the French media have so far shown little interest in the issue. “The Submarine Crisis” seems to be largely a footnote when discussing the deterioration of US or cross-Channel relations.

On Friday, after Biden said he felt “like France had been informed”, Le Monde called his request “quite astonishing”.

Fox News Style CNews Commentators this week called the broken sub contract a “humiliation”, a “Diplomatic beating”, and proof of The contempt of the United States for France.

Monday morning, the Parisian report mainly noted that the incident “had sparked a quarrel with the United States”. Monday afternoon, Les Echos financial review referred to the submarine debate as a sign of London’s “perfidy” and its desire to create problems for Europe – but made no mention of Australia.

Monday evening, Ouest-France reported on Morrison’s booth without further analysis. A French commentator remarked on how “furious” the prime minister was at Macron’s accusation.

But with Cop26 underway, Morrison’s comments have otherwise received little attention in the French press. BFMTV noted that Australia’s “torpedoing” of the contract had strained France’s relations with the UK, exacerbating tensions over fishing licenses – but otherwise made no mention of Morrison.

‘Frexit’ champion Francois Asselineau meanwhile suggested that Biden lied to Macron – that Morrison’s comments indicated that ‘Biden was obviously fully informed’ that France had not been kept in the loop.

While the French media were somewhat restricted, News Corp Australia tabloids made their way to town: “Prime Minister’s fury over French whines,” the headline of the Herald Sun reads, while the Daily Telegraph has chose “The Frog of War”.

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