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Submarine dispute has EU chair asking: Is America back?

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By Reuters
EU foreign ministers to discuss submarine dispute on Monday
EU foreign ministers to discuss submarine dispute on Monday   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITEDNATIONS -European Union foreign ministers on Monday will discuss Australia’s scrapping of a $40 billion submarine order with France, a move that prompted the European Council president to question U.S. loyalty.

The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly in New York at 2200 GMT (6 p.m. local time), a European Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels.

Australia said last week it would cancel an order for conventional submarines from France and instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a security partnership with those countries under the name AUKUS.

It is not clear if the dispute will have implications for the next round of EU-Australia trade talks, scheduled for Oct. 12.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in New York on Monday. Borrell “inquired about the lack of prior consultations and regretted that this partnership excludes European partners, who have a strong presence in the Pacific,” his spokesman said.

European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in New York that he found it difficult to understand the move.

“Why? Because with the new Joe Biden administration, America is back. This was the historic message sent by this new administration and now we have questions. What does it mean – America is back? Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don’t know,” he said.

If China was a main focus for Washington then it was “very strange” for the United States to team up with Australia and Britain, he said, calling it a decision that weakened the transatlantic alliance.

“It is very strange to put Europe out of the game in the Indo-Pacific region,” Michel said. “The elementary principals for an alliance are loyalty and transparency … this was not the choice made by our ally.”

Top officials from the United States and European Union are due to meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later this month for the inaugural meeting of the newly established U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, but Michel said some EU members were pushing for this to be postponed.

The United States has sought to assuage the anger in France, a NATO ally. The French government said on Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron would have a call with Biden in the next few days.