France has urged its EU partners to consider whether to delay negotiations on the bloc’s future trade agreement with Australia over what Paris says is a lack of trust sparked by a major defence deal between the US, Australia and the UK.
French European affairs minister Clement Beaune said he would raise the trade pact and the security implications of the deal, known as Aukus, at a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels, and that France would ensure that it is discussed at EU summits and ministerial meetings next month.
The Indo-Pacific security pact will see Australia cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French government is suggesting it was betrayed by the deal, which comes in the run-up to elections in France in April.
“It’s a matter of trust,” Mr Beaune told reporters. “When you have your word, it has some value between allies, between democracies, between partners and in this case this word was not respected… so of course it creates a breach of trust.”
“We have to be firm, not as French but as Europeans, because it’s a matter of the way we work together as allies,” he said.
Asked whether France would call a halt to the trade talks with Australia, which have been under way since 2018, Mr Beaune said “that is among the points that we must discuss together”.
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, conducts trade talks based on a mandate it receives from the 27 member countries.
The commission routinely informs the countries about progress, but they are not directly involved even though they can delay progress.
However, any trade pact must be endorsed unanimously, so individual countries have a veto.