French-Australian relations hit ‘new low’ after Macron text message leak

by mcardinal

Chris Lieberman, FISM News


French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault rebuked the Australian government on Wednesday for leaking a text message to the media between French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, calling the move a “new low” in French-Australian relations. 

The ambassador’s comments are just the latest in a war of words between the two countries following Australia’s cancellation of a 90 billion Australian dollar (66 billion U.S. dollar) contract with France to construct a fleet of diesel-powered submarines.

In September the U.S., U.K., and Australia announced the new AUKUS alliance, which included, among other provisions, an agreement for the U.S. to supply Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As a result, Australia cancelled their previous agreement with France, a move that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described as “a stab in the back.”

In the weeks since, relations between France and Australia have continued to deteriorate, with France even recalling Thebault from Australia for a time. On Sunday, at the G20 summit in Rome, Macron accused Morrison of lying to him in the lead-up to the contract’s cancellation. Then on Tuesday Australian media published the contents of a text message Macron sent to Morrison just two days before AUKUS was announced, a move that many believe was in retaliation for Macron’s comments.

In the text Macron asked Morrison, “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?” Morrison claims that the message proves that Macron was not caught unaware by Australia’s announcement as he claims, but that he knew the deal was in question. Thebault disagreed, saying “It completely demonstrates that until the last minute, we didn’t know where things were heading to. It completely demonstrates that nothing has ever been told to us.”

Thebault warned that Australia’s willingness to publish private messages between leaders should cause concern for the rest of the world, saying the move “sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state: Beware, in Australia there will be leaks and what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponized against you.”

Australia’s actions have indeed hurt them on the world stage, with free trade talks with the EU now stalled as the EU stands in solidarity with France against Australia.

These events come at a time when both Macron and Morrison’s political futures hang in the balance. Macron is up for re-election in April. Morrison’s Conservative Party must hold an election by May. Australia’s previous Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has latched onto Macron’s comments about Morrison, saying “Scott has always had a reputation for telling lies. He’s lied to me on many occasions.”

The announcement of AUKUS also soured U.S.-French relations for a time, with France temporarily recalling their ambassador to the U.S. Last week, President Biden admitted that the U.S. was “clumsy” in their dealings with France over unveiling the new deal. However, Biden apologized to Macron, and Thebault said that the two countries have “found again the path to acting together.”