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Tensions due to Franco-British disputes and Aukus

Molly Duffy examines the growing tensions with France, Britain and the United States

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Image Credit: Simon Dawson

Franco-British Tensions have recently increased, notably due to the recent announcement of a trilateral pact, between Australia, UK and US (AUKUS). Negotiated behind closed doors, it has left France – and especially Macron – in a problematic situation with the upcoming presidential elections.

The surprise announcement of Aukus on 15 September 2021 created a diplomatic rift between these longstanding allies. This was particularly concerning for France as prior to this announcement they were in negotiations with Australia regarding their own submarine deal, in which Australia would acquire 12 conventional diesel submarines. However, this was all abandoned following the disclosure of Aukus. Furthermore, the withdrawal of Australia also means a loss of major investment and job opportunities for France, something that does not bode well for Macron at the upcoming election.

When considering the benefits for nations such as Australia, which will acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines, the benefits of the deal are clear. Firstly, submarines that the UK and US were proposing are superior; nuclear engines which are generated by an on-board reactor, meaning that the submarines can stay submerged for years without having to resurface, thus making them far less detectable. Secondly, although not explicitly stated, the deal is thought to be to counteract the influence of China in the region, thus providing Australia with protection from their powerful neighbour.

As this is the first time that the United States and the United Kingdom have shared nuclear intelligence outside of the ‘special relationship’, analysts have argued that Aukus could be the most important arrangement between the nations since World War Two.

Aukus is not the only cause of political tensions between France and the West. The rivalry between them is perceptible when considering the management of migrants across the English channel and the position of Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit agreement, all of which contribute to rising international tensions. Fishing agreements is the latest post-Brexit dispute involving the UK and France. This comes ahead of the deadline for licences to be granted to French fishing boats, potentially leading to legal action as set out in Article 738 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The uncompromising actions of both the UK and France is encouraging the conflict; as while the fishing industry in both Britain and France amounts to no more than 0.1 per-cent of their annual GDP, neither are willing to admit defeat. How does this intense political climate leave us for the upcoming French election?

Macron is already under profound political pressure with the April 2022 presidential election looming. It has been suggested that his hopes of being re-elected are what is fuelling the fishing row with the UK, being a political ploy to gain right-wing support, proving that his priority is to protect their jobs and the industry.

Additionally, following the announcement of Aukus in September and France recalling the ambassador to the US for the first time ever, France has some “anti-Americanism” feeling that Macron can exploit. Macron’s conflict with Biden could benefit him when it comes to winning votes at the presidential election.

Eric Zemmour, a recent addition to the presidential race, when asked about Macron’s handling of the disputes with the UK commented saying that he “respect[s] the British,” and he believes that “the European Commission in Brussels doesn’t respect them. They never forgave them for Brexit. ”Thus, highlighting the differing opinion of the disputes and hostile relationship with the UK.

On the other hand, the exclusion and blindsiding of France during the Aukus deal has wounded France’s pride. Macron has spent years trying to promote France as an Indo-Pacific power, but has now been shown to be incapable of maintaining global power.

Furthermore, the French, and Macron’s credibility has been criticised, which further contributes to the disillusionment with the French leader as Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, leaked private text messages between them both regarding Aukus, undermining Macron’s account, proving he was actually aware that the submarine deal with Australia might be in trouble. Therefore suggesting that Macron was not blindsided as he initially thought, whilst also discrediting Morrison for sharing the messages.

France, at the moment holds a prominent position on the international stage due to the recent disputes between the Western nations. It is still unclear what the effect of these tensions will be when it comes to the French presidential elections next year, with Macron’s belligerent rhetoric showing the campaign has already begun.

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