BRUSSELS: France on Tuesday urged its European Union partners to consider whether to delay negotiations on the bloc's future trade agreement with Australia over what Paris says is a lack of trust sparked by a major defense deal between the U.S., Australia and Britain.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said he would raise the trade pact and the security implications of the deal, known as AUKUS, at a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels, and that France would ensure that it is discussed at EU summits and ministerial meetings next month.
The Indo-Pacific security pact will see Australia cancel a multi-billion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire U.S. nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French government is suggesting it was betrayed by the deal, which comes in the run-up to elections in France in April.
"It's a matter of trust," Beaune told reporters.
"When you have your word, it has some value between allies, between democracies, between partners and in this case this word was not respected so of course it creates a breach of trust."
"We have to be firm, not as French but as Europeans, because it's a matter of the way we work together as allies," he said.
Asked whether France would call a halt to the trade talks with Australia, which have been underway since 2018, Beaune said "that is among the points that we must discuss together."
The EU's executive branch, the European Commission, conducts trade talks based on a mandate it receives from the 27 member countries.
The commission routinely informs the countries about progress, but they are not directly involved even though they can delay progress.
However, any trade pact must be endorsed unanimously, so individual countries have a veto.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that Britain's relationship with France is "ineradicable," despite fury in Paris over a US-UK-Australia submarine deal.
A meeting between French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart, Ben Wallace, has been postponed as the agreement roils relations between France and major allies.
The two had been due to meet and address a meeting organized this week by the Franco-British Council.
Peter Ricketts, the council's co-chairman, told The Guardian on Monday that the meeting had been "postponed to a later date."
The submarine deal, announced last week, will see Australia cancel a contract to buy diesel-electric French subs and acquire nuclear-powered vessels from the US instead.
The US, Australia and Britain say the deal bolsters their commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and has widely been seen as a move to counter an increasingly assertive China.
The French government appears to have been blindsided by the agreement.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it a "stab in the back," and France recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, a highly unusual move among allies.
France did not, however, recall its envoy to London.
French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Britain, the third player in the "AUSUK" deal, was a "junior partner" and a vassal of the US.
Johnson said UK-France relations were "very friendly" despite the diplomatic turmoil.
"Our love of France is ineradicable," Johnson told reporters traveling with him to New York for the UN General Assembly.
"AUKUS is not in any way meant to be zero-sum, it's not meant to be exclusionary. It's not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends."
British officials have stressed the close military ties between the UK and France, including joint operations in Mali and Estonia.
UK Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said Monday that "all bilateral relationships go through periods of tension."
"On a personal level, I have absolutely no doubt that, ultimately, our relationship with France will endure," he told the BBC.
"But this (submarine deal) is about making sure that we have a really strong defense relationship with two very, very important defense partners."