The French and American presidents have promised to relaunch their trans-Atlantic relationship. The real test will be whether or not they do what they have discussed.
They have buried the hatchet — at least with Washington. One week after the surprise announcement of a trilateral security partnership between the United States, Australia and Great Britain, also called AUKUS, a partnership which caused a deep crisis with France, Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron got on the same page over a series of measures meant to improve trans-Atlantic conversation during a phone call on Sept. 22.
The joint statement issued after the call offers several clues as to how Europe and the United States might relaunch their relationship, one that suffered greatly during Donald Trump’s presidency and that the Biden administration has not really reestablished.
The first clue to reestablishing relations will be to begin a process of in-depth consultations. This lack of consultation is what led to genuine unease among European allies during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also, once again, an issue with respect to the AUKUS negotiations that took place in secret and behind France’s back, whose sales contract for submarines to Australia was breached. Biden has apologized publicly — keeping Paris in the loop would have allowed us to “avoid a situation” that the two leaders diplomatically refrained from naming in the statement.*
Two other matters potentially signal more productive cooperation. The United States has admitted that the Indo-Pacific does not belong exclusively to the United States and that France, which is present in the region, and the European Union, which presented its strategy for the region last week, have a role to play. And above all, Biden and Macron highlighted the need for “a stronger and more capable European defense” that is “complementary to NATO.” [Biden’s] wording is vague, but it addresses a consistent claim made by Paris, which, contrary to the wishful thinking of certain circles within the French opposition which have little knowledge about geostrategic realities, has no interest in leaving NATO.
The support of the United States is thus important in France’s fight against terrorism with help from other Europeans in the Sahel, support which Biden has reconfirmed.
The Grievance Is Deep
Obviously, these promises to act still need to be carried out. The devil, as we well know, is in the details. What, exactly, is a “stronger European defense” in terms of the decision-making process? The AUKUS incident has shown just how much American foreign policy, fully directed at its rivalry with China, ignores the allies it has deemed nonessential, but the leopard obviously cannot change its spots. It is up to Europeans to seize the moment and overcome their division.
The issue of the submarines and the contract the Americans broke with France was not mentioned during the call. It will be the subject of a phone conversation between Macron and Australian Prime Minister Morrison, a call that the Elysee will no doubt put off a bit longer, because the grievance is so deep. This is where they will have to discuss compensation.
The British part in this episode still needs to be addressed, as Prime Minister Johnson asked the French to “donnez-moi un break” on television Sept. 22. However, Paris has ostensibly directed its anger at the United States rather than London. “When you are unhappy with your food in a restaurant, you do not ask for the waiter, you ask for the chef,” one of Macron’s advisers explained. Undoubtedly, but it is always a bit more complicated when the waiter is your neighbor.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted passage could not be independently verified.