PARIS – European nations must boost their defense plans and make themselves “respected,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday as his country opens talks with the United States following a submarine contract dispute that led to a diplomatic crisis.
“Europeans must come out of their naivety,” Macron said during a news conference in Paris where he spoke publicly for the first time about a Indo-Pacific defense deal among the U.S., Australia and Britain that sank a multi-billion French contract.
“When we are under pressure,...showing that we also have power and the capacity to defend ourselves...is simply making ourselves be respected.”
As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire U.S. nuclear-powered vessels instead. In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador to the U.S. in response.
Ambassador Philippe Etienne will go back to Washington on Wednesday with a “clear mandate,” Macron said. He stressed he and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed last week in a phone call to open in-depth consultations aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence between the longtime allies.
Macron said he is to talk again with Biden in mid-October, before a scheduled in-person meeting at the end of next month in Europe.
A French senior official said no date has been set yet for the return of the French ambassador to Australia, who also was recalled. He spoke anonymously in accordance with the French presidency’s customary practices.
The official said Macron has not spoken with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison since the defense deal was announced but that the French leader was ready to hold discussions at some point on the condition they were “being prepared in a serious manner.”
The United States are "great historical friends and allies in terms of values, but we must see that for more than 10 years the Americans first focus on themselves and have strategic interests reoriented toward China and the Pacific,” Macron said.
“We must, as Europeans, take our part in our own protection,” he said.
“It is not an alternative to the alliance with the U.S. nor a substitute for it,” the president stressed, adding that European defense plans should come in addition to NATO.
Macron spoke Tuesday after France signed a defense deal with Greece, including the purchase by Athens of three warships worth several billion euros.
“The debate on European strategic autonomy has begun to take on real content," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
The European Union plans to hold a defense summit next year; France takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency in the first half of 2022.
Macron, who is expected to run for reelection in France's April presidential vote, has pushed for the 27-nation trade bloc to develop more EU defense autonomy, notably during the turmoil of the Trump administration.
Stung by the swift collapse of the Afghan army and the chaotic U.S.-led evacuation through Kabul airport, the EU this month unveiled plans to develop its own defense capacities to try to ensure that it has more freedom to act in future crises.
The EU also unveiled earlier this month a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific area.
AP Writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to the story from Athens, Greece.