France Finds EU Sympathy to Delay U.S. Trade Talks Amid Submarine Deal Fury
France’s bid to delay a pivotal European Union trade meeting with the U.S. gained support from the Netherlands and other member states as they assess a new defense pact Washington struck with Australia and the U.K.
“We support not having the meeting on economic safety at this point with the U.S.,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Tuesday evening. “Brussels will press on the pause button. It will happen for sure but in a later stage.”
A growing number of member states have backed France’s request to postpone the trade and technology council meeting scheduled for Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh, according to diplomats familiar with the planning.
The purpose of a postponement would be to give EU leaders time to discuss the situation when they meet in Slovenia early next month and any delay would likely be short, said one European official, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
“Something has changed. There is indeed a growing feeling in Europe, and I see this with regret, that something is broken in our transatlantic relation,” EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C. He added there is a “strong perception that trust between the EU and the U.S. has been just eroded.”
He added: “So it is probably time to maybe pause and reset our US-EU relationship.”
French officials have described being “stabbed in the back” by Australia’s decision to renege on a A$90 billion ($65.2 billion) submarine contract. The U.S. and U.K. will now supply more modern nuclear-powered submarines to Australia in a deal that blindsided France.
The Pittsburgh meeting is aimed at allowing the EU and U.S. to discuss regulatory alignment that would strengthen their joint position with regard to China. The EU is seeking to explore ways to screen potentially hostile foreign investments, how to cooperate on export controls, discuss artificial intelligence and address critical supply chain gaps of goods like semiconductors.
“When you give your word it has some value between allies, between democracies, between partners. And in this case, this word was not respected,” France’s minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. “We have to be firm, not as French but as Europeans.”
The French request for a delay to the TTC has met resistance with some member arguing that a postponement would cause the bloc more harm, according to one diplomat. Some criticized France for failing to show solidarity in separate cases, like a border clash between Lithuania and Belarus.
The issue is still undecided and will be discussed by EU ambassadors on Friday. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is studying the impact that the new defense pact will have on the schedule for the TTC, a spokesperson said.
French Ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne said Tuesday that the two nations needed to “rebuild trust” after his country was “deliberately kept outside” of the submarine contract negotiations, while disputing the idea that French actions risked isolating the country.
“We need a serious conversation between the United States and the European Union,” Etienne said in an interview with MSNBC. The flap created the “right opportunity” for Europeans to recognize they need to “develop their own actions and be a partner that takes a greater role.”
EU foreign ministers meeting in New York expressed solidarity with France, according to comments the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, made to reporters on Monday. Borrell also called for “more cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation” among allies.
“What we’re seeing has made a lot things more difficult, and I fear that it will make things difficult for a longer period of time,” German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Tuesday. “What was decided and the way in which this decision was made is irritating and sobering -- and not only for France.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.