French president Emmanuel Macron and Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese have sought to put behind them a bitter bilateral dispute triggered by the previous Canberra government’s cancellation of a multibillion-dollar French submarine contract.
Albanese, who was elected PM in May, flew to Paris for a meeting designed to mend relations after his predecessor Scott Morrison secretly negotiated an agreement between Australia, the US and the UK to supply US-designed nuclear powered submarines instead of French submarines. Both leaders said they wanted to work together on global security and climate change.
“We will speak about the future, not the past,” Macron said at the Élysée Palace on Friday as he welcomed Albanese for an official lunch. “He is not responsible for what happened.”
Albanese said: “We recognise that France is not just a great European power but also an Indo-Pacific and global power . . . Australia’s relationship with France matters. Trust, respect and honesty matters. This is how I will approach our relations.”
The meeting comes after Canberra agreed to pay French defence company Naval Group A$830mn ($563mn) to sever the old A$90bn submarines contract.
The cancellation of the contract in September caught Paris off-guard. Macron, who had actively sought to increase France’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, accused Morrison of lying to him about the deal before it was announced, which Morrison denied.
US president Joe Biden later acknowledged that Washington’s treatment of France had been “clumsy” in its handling of the “Aukus” pact’s launch. But the dispute had since remained an irritant between the capitals, even as Russia’s aggression of Ukraine in February drew them closer together.
On Friday, Albanese said he agreed with Macron on the need for co-operation between Australia and France, which has Pacific island territories including New Caledonia and French Polynesia, in the Indo-Pacific.
Both countries are concerned by the increasingly global nature of the confrontation between western allies and authoritarian powers such as China and Russia. In a joint communiqué, they said they would “forge a new defence relationship”, including through more intelligence sharing.
“We are determined . . . to intensify security co-operation with Pacific nations, in particular in maritime surveillance, with regional organisations and in the Indian Ocean, including with India,” it read.
Macron, re-elected for a second presidential term in April, faces a hung parliament and is in charge of a minority government since losing his majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections in June. But as president, he remains in charge of defence and foreign policy even if he will be constrained in enacting legislation at home.