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POLITICS

Macron says Australian PM lied to him over subs spat

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said Australia's prime minister outright lied to him over a cancelled submarine deal, deepening an already fraught diplomatic crisis.

Macron says Australian PM lied to him over subs spat
French President Emmanuel Macron poses with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 15, 2021. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

“I don’t think. I know,” Macron said when asked by Australian media if Scott Morrison was untruthful in their private dealings.

Both leaders are attending the G20 in Rome and a major UN-backed climate summit in Glasgow, but the weeks-long spat continues to trail them.

In September, Australia’s leader without warning tore up a decade-old multi-billion-dollar contract with France to build a new fleet of submarines.

At the same time, Morrison revealed he had been in secret talks to acquire US or British nuclear subs.

Furious, Paris denounced the decision as a “stab in the back” and recalled its ambassador, who is only now getting back to work Down Under.

OPINION: France’s Australian submarine row shows that Macron was right about NATO

Australian media asked Macron on the sidelines of the G20 summit whether he thought the Australian leader had been untruthful to him in private meetings.

The French president left little doubt about his view, stressing the need for mutual “respect”.

“You have to behave in line and consistently with this value,” he said.

Macron crossed paths with Morrison at the G20, and spoke on the phone earlier this week, telling him that a “relationship of trust” had been broken between France and Australia.

The pair are yet to sit down for formal talks, although the French ambassador is set to meet Australia’s foreign minister in Sydney on Monday.

In Rome, the French leader seemed to have made more progress in clearing the air with US President Joe Biden.

On Friday, Biden admitted to his French counterpart that Washington had been “clumsy” in the way it handled the deal, and said, “We have no better ally than France.”

Morrison on Sunday defended his behaviour, refuting Macron’s view and denying that he lied to the French leader at a private meeting in June.

ANALYSIS: Two weeks after submarine ‘betrayal’ France weighs up whether to extract a price

“I don’t agree with that,” he said. “It’s not true.”

“We had dinner together. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I explained very clearly that the conventional submarine option was not going to meet Australia’s interests,” Morrison said.

“I’m quite conscious of the disappointment that’s there. And I’m not surprised — it was a significant contract. And so I’m not surprised about the level of disappointment.”

Member comments

  1. The French submarine contract has had issues with delays and blowing totally out of budget by millions and millions of dollars, therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Macron, it was doomed. Morrison is hopeless and should have handled matters better, diplomacy isn’t his strong suit, he is a total bumbler.

  2. It seems unlikely that the French were surprised in September since there had been a Statement and debate in the Australian parliament on dropping the contract , widely reported, in June.

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POLITICS

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

French President Emmanuel Macron will get a taste of public resistance to his second-term reform agenda this week during the first nationwide strike called since his re-election in April.

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

The 44-year-old head of state has pledged to push ahead with raising the retirement age having backed away from the explosive issue during his first five years in power.

But having lost his parliamentary majority in June, the pro-business centrist faces severe difficulties passing legislation, while galloping inflation is souring the national mood.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age to 64 or 65 from 62 currently, with changes to start taking effect next year.

“I’m not pre-empting what the government and the parliament will do, but I’m convinced it’s a necessity,” Macron told the BFM news channel last Thursday.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker argues that raising the retirement age and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without
increasing taxes.

On Thursday, France’s far-left CGT union, backed by left-wing political parties, has organised a national day of strikes, the opening shot in what is expected to be a months-long tussle.

Though the protests were originally planned to demand wage increases, they are now intended to signal broad opposition to the government’s plans.

“We’re against the raising of the retirement age,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the LCI broadcaster last week. “The government’s arguments don’t stack up.”   

Unpopular

Public opinion towards pension reform and the strikes is likely to be decisive in determining whether Macron succeeds with a reform he called off in 2020 in the face of protests and Covid-19.

An opinion poll last week from the Odoxa group found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the reform and 67 percent said they were ready to support protests against it.

But a separate survey from the Elabe group gave a more nuanced picture. It also found that only a minority, 21 percent, wanted the retirement age increased, but a total of 56 percent thought the current system no longer worked and 60 percent thought it was financially unsustainable.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to Macron told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” he said, referring to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) political party that has backed the strikes.

The second decisive factor will be how the government introduces the reform in parliament where Macron’s allies are around 40 seats short of a majority.

Some favour slipping it into a social security budget bill that will be voted on in October — a stealthy move that will be denounced as under-handed by critics.

Others think more time should be taken for consultations with trade unions and opposition parties, even though they have all ruled out working with the government.

Macron prefers the quicker option, one senior MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In both scenarios, observers expect the government to resort to a controversial constitutional mechanism called “article 49.3” that allows the executive to ram legislation through the national assembly without a vote.

If opposition parties unite against the measure or call a no-confidence motion in the government, they could trigger new elections.

The reform was “ballsy but dangerous,” one ally told French media last week.

Macron II

Success with the pension reform and separate changes to the unemployment benefits system will help the president re-launch his image as a reformer, experts say.

Since winning a historic second term in April, he has been caught up in the Ukraine war crisis amid reports the parliamentary election setback in June left him disoriented and even depressed.

“We’ve slightly lost the narrative of Macronism,” political scientist Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP recently.

The challenge was giving the second term a “direction” and showing “how it builds on the results of the first”, he said.

“The essence of Macronism, which does not have a long history, is the leader and the programme,” added Benjamin Morel from Paris II university.

Since being elected as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, Macron has made overhauling social security and workplace regulation part of his political DNA.

“Emmanuel Macron can’t easily back away from a reform because burying a reform, it’s like disavowing himself,” Morel said.

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