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Macron and Turnbull clarify their common ambitions

Posted By on July 27, 2017 @ 06:00

France was a significant stopover in Malcolm Turnbull’s tour of Europe. The Australian prime minister visited France two weeks ago to hold his first bilateral meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron and to inspect the design facility for Australia’s future submarines in Cherbourg, Normandy.

The two men flew back together from the G20 meeting in Hamburg to Paris, where Macron hosted a working dinner with his Australian counterpart. Turnbull’s visit had two main objectives: to assuage doubts about the progress of the submarine project and to secure France’s support during negotiations for the EU–Australia free-trade agreement (FTA). On the French side, Macron wanted to assure Turnbull of France’s ongoing commitment to its submarine deal with Australia and of the new French administration’s full understanding of the significance of that contract for Australia’s national security.

Malcom Turnbull’s visit to Cherbourg was a necessary response to frequent criticism of his decision to choose Naval Group, formerly called DCNS, to build Australia’s next generation of submarines. With his inspection of the design office at Cherbourg, Turnbull also aimed to reassure the public about security issues after Naval Group’s leak scandal last year. The prime minister asserted that, more than just a military contract, that decision was also made to cement the close strategic rapprochement between Paris and Canberra that’s been underway since 2012.

In their joint declaration, Macron and Turnbull emphasised the global common interests promoted by France and Australia during the G20 meeting, particularly intelligence cooperation and the fight against terrorism, since the two countries are jointly engaged in the international coalition against Daesh. Both also mentioned their bilateral cooperation on cybersecurity and the control of international financial transactions. Macron also thanked Turnbull for his support of the Paris agreement on climate change after Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord.

Putting the submarine agreement in an Asia–Pacific context, Macron praised Australia’s regional leadership, describing it as a tool for the protection of France’s interests in the region. Without naming Beijing directly, Macron and Turnbull mentioned that France and Australia are jointly determined to maintain freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Alongside security, the visit was also dedicated to trade and investment cooperation. In fact, Macron specifically highlighted the economic dimension of the French–Australian bilateral relationship. That isn’t a surprise, given that he was elected partly on the promise to stimulate France’s economy. Since 2012, France has deeply modified the structures of its economic diplomacy to make it more efficient and to support France’s economic growth. Australia has been one of the main targets of those diplomatic efforts, as demonstrated by its submarine contract with Naval Group. Therefore, Macron reasserted France’s focus on deepening its commercial and investment links with Australia in the sectors in which French companies are already well represented, such as transport.

The fact that the French president focused so heavily on trade and investment indicates France’s support for the elaboration of an EU–Australia FTA in the lead-up to the start of the negotiations. That support is a crucial topic in the deepening of the French–Australian relationship, and Malcolm Turnbull stressed Australia’s commitment to sign FTAs with its major economic partners. One of the aims of the Australian prime minister during the G20 summit was to make sure of the support for an FTA from major EU member states. He discussed the topic with Jean-Claude Junker, Donald Tusk and Emmanuel Macron, who all asserted their commitment to reach an agreement over the next 18 months. Negotiations are likely to be tense in specific economic sectors, such as agriculture where France and Australia share a long history of tensions. Securing France’s support on that matter has been a key objective for Canberra.

The visit was also beneficial to Macron’s own political agenda. The invitation to the Australian prime minister was part of the French president’s intense series of bilateral and multilateral meetings with heads of state or government. Macron has received foreign officials almost every week since his election, while remaining almost silent on national policies. He has primarily worked on reinforcing his presidential status by focusing on international affairs, a domain of responsibility traditionally used by French presidents to strengthen their popularity.

However, while Macron has forged a clear vision for the strengthening of the EU, a goal he shares with Angela Merkel, he now needs to clarify his vision of how to bolster France’s role in overcoming global challenges. At a time of significant debate in France as to whether Paris should focus on interests or values in crafting its strategy, Macron aims to find a pragmatic balance between the two. A pragmatism President Macron claims to have found in Australia’s diplomacy.

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[1] The Australian prime minister visited France two weeks ago: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/07/09/turnbull-opens-submarines-office

[2] to assuage doubts about the progress of the submarine project: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/09/malcolm-turnbull-claims-wins-on-trade-and-terror-as-g20-leaves-trump-isolated

[3] necessary response to frequent criticism: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jun/30/liberal-senators-round-on-abbott-criticising-him-for-trying-to-rewrite-history

[4] leak scandal last year: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/our-french-submarine-builder-in-massive-leak-scandal/news-story/3fe0d25b7733873c44aaa0a4d42db39e

[5] In their joint declaration: http://www.elysee.fr/declarations/article/declaration-conjointe-d-emmanuel-macron-et-de-m-malcolm-turnbull-premier-ministre-australien/

[6] France has deeply modified the structures of its economic diplomacy: http://www.slate.fr/story/85683/quai-orsay-diplomatie-economique

[7] EU–Australia FTA in the lead-up to the start of the negotiations: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/euaustralia-on-the-cusp-of-trade-negotiations/news-story/02be0396f0f3702fc95259e36af844fc

[8] by focusing on international affairs: http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2017/07/17/la-diplomatie-creative-du-president-macron_5161483_3232.html

[9] Macron aims to find a pragmatic balance between the two: http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2017/06/23/01003-20170623ARTFIG00355-emmanuel-macron-veut-une-politique-etrangere-basee-sur-le-pragmatisme.php