France says Australia is ‘inelegant’ after Macron’s text message leaked

France on Tuesday accused Australia of using "very inelegant methods" after a text message sent by President Emmanuel Macron to Australian leader Scott Morrison was leaked in an apparent bid to imply that he knew about the collapse of a major submarine deal earlier than he maintains.

France says Australia is 'inelegant' after Macron's text message leaked
Macron and Morrison. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Media in Australia and Europe reported on the SMS which the French leader sent to Morrison two days before Australia announced that it had torn up a decade-old multi-billion-dollar contract with France to build a new fleet of submarines.

France, which reacted furiously to the cancellation, has always said it had been blindsided by the announcement, and Macron added to the furore at the weekend by accusing of Morrison of lying to him.

But the revelation of the text message Tuesday can be seen as suggesting Macron was less surprised by the cancellation than he has admitted.

“Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”, reads the SMS sent to Morrison 48 hours before the official contract cancellation announcement which was made at a news conference.

A source close to Macron, who asked not to be named, said the leak was proof of “very inelegant methods”.

Standing by earlier assurances that Macron had not been given advance warning of the cancellation, the source told AFP  the SMS did not undermine that narrative.

“On the contrary, this SMS shows that the president did not know that they were going to cancel the contract,” the source claimed.

Had a message existed that clearly showed that he did in fact know “they would have reported that instead”.

The source added: “We knew that the Australians had some issues, but they only concerned technical aspects and the timetable, as with every big contract like this one.

It was precisely those issues that the SMS referred to, ahead of a discussion with submarine manufacturer Naval Group planned for the following day, the source said. It is not clear what response Morrison gave to the SMS.

Reports have said  the SMS leak could have been engineered by Morrison’s office in retaliation for the “lying” charge.

The row also pitted Paris against the United States which agreed with Canberra to supply submarines instead of the French.

Australia announced the pact as it joined a new defence alliance with Britain and the US dubbed AUKUS, one of a series of initiatives by US President Joe Biden who views countering China as the paramount concern of the United States.

Last week, Biden admitted Friday to “clumsy” dealings with France, in a
sort of mea culpa which Macron’s office said would help rebuild confidence with Washington.

“But Scott Morrison never apologised,” the source said.

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Macron rules out ‘national unity government’ for France

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised a new style of government based on 'listening and respect' - but did not announce an alliance with any other parties that would give him a majority in parliament.

Macron rules out 'national unity government' for France

Macron has been holding meetings with all other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock in parliament after his group lost its majority in Sunday’s elections, but in a live TV address to the nation he did not announce an alliance.

Instead he said that a new style of government was called for, saying: “The responsibility of the presidential majority is therefore to expand, either by building a coalition contract or by building majorities text by text.”

He rejected the idea of forming a “government of national unity” with all parties, saying that the present situation does not justify it.

READ ALSO Can Macron dissolve the French parliament?

But he said that opposition groups have signalled that: “They are available to advance on major topics” such as the cost of living, jobs, energy, climate and health.”

He said: “We must learn how to govern differently, by dialogue, respect, and listening

“This must mean making agreements, through dialogue, respect, and hard work. The country has made its desire for change clear.”  

Speaking for just eight minutes in the gardens of the Elysée, Macron added: “I cannot ignore the fractures and strong divisions that traverse our country.”   

He said urgent draft laws, especially to alleviate the impact of inflation and rising energy prices, would be submitted to parliament over the summer.

Macron called on the opposition parties to “clarify in all transparency, in the coming days, how far they are willing to go” in their support of such measures, which he said would not be financed by higher taxes.

He added that he himself had been re-elected in April on a platform of “ambitious reform” which he expected to carry out.

The parliamentary impasse should not lead to “stagnation”, Macron said, but to “dialogue and the willingness to listen to each other”.

Macron’s centrist group Ensemble (Together) ended Sunday’s elections as the largest group in parliament – but with 245 seats they are 44 short of an absolute majority.

The leftist coalition Nupes – an electoral alliance of the hard-left La France Insoumise, the centre-left Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communists – got a total of 131.

Meanwhile Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National got 89 seats and the centre-right Les Républicains got 61 seats. 

With deadlock in parliament, Macron has been holding meetings over the last two days with the party leaders in the attempt to create an alliance that will allow him to pass legislation over the next five years.

Reacting to Macron’s speech, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the leftist alliance which is the second largest group in parliament, said: “He was elected because most French people did not want the extreme right – the French people have rejected the president’s proposals.

“Nothing can change the choice of the French people.”

Macron’s position as president is not directly threatened by the lack of a majority, but it will mean that passing any legislation – which must be agreed by parliament – will be very difficult.

While negotiations between all parties will continue, Macron himself heads to Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit.