EU chief Charles Michel on Monday (20 September) accused the United States of a lack of loyalty after Australia canceled a mega-contract with France to buy US nuclear submarines.
“The elementary principles for allies are transparency and trust, and it goes together. And what do we observe? We are observing a clear lack of transparency and loyalty,” the European Council chief told reporters at the United Nations.
He said that the Europeans need “to clarify and to try to understand better what are the intentions behind this announcement.”
Michel said that the move would reinforce European efforts to build their own defense capacity.
Such a move would be “not against our allies, but because if we are stronger and if we are more robust, then it means that our alliances are also stronger,” he said.
Michel suggested disappointment with US President Joe Biden, who took office vowing to shore up alliances after his divisive predecessor Donald Trump.
With Trump, “at least it was really clear — the tone, the substance, the language — it was very clear that the EU was not in his opinion a useful partner, a useful ally,” Michel said.
Australia said it understands France’s disappointment but that its conventional submarines were insufficient to keep the country’s submarine edge for decades to come, amid rising tensions with China.
France is livid by the move, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accusing Australia of “back-stabbing” and the United States of betrayal.
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, also visiting the United Nations, described the contract decision as “a thunderbolt first for France but also for Europe and for the world on a geostrategic level.”
Europe needs to be “more vocal” and “present on the international stage,” she said.
She voiced hope for common ground in a meeting of EU foreign ministers later Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations, although diplomats said France was not pushing for any formal statement of support.
Speaking after the closed-door meeting on the sidelines annual UN gathering of world leaders, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “more cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation” was needed to achieve a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific region where China is the major rising power.
Biden budges on travel
US officials said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a fluent French speaker who grew up in Paris, sought to contain damage Friday in a conversation with the French ambassador in Washington, Philippe Etienne, before he was recalled to Paris for consultations as a protest.
Officials said Blinken also passed along continued concerns by France and other allies over a ban on European travelers imposed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a significant reversal, the Biden administration announced it would ease a Covid travel ban on all air passengers so long as they are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing.
The European Union, eager to avoid a second summer without US tourists, had relaxed its own rules months ago and had been threatening to reimpose them, angry that the United States had not reciprocated.
Biden took office vowing to defeat the pandemic but has increasingly faced political pressure as sections of the American public stubbornly refuse vaccinations and as the Delta variant sends caseloads rising again.
Biden will hold a special virtual summit Wednesday on ways to end the pandemic, with the United States seeking to show a leadership role after already donating more than 100 million Covid vaccine doses abroad.