Britain’s new defence pact with Australia and the United States has shattered EU delusions of becoming a significant actor on the world stage at a pivotal moment.
The blow was delivered by the announcement of yesterday’s historic pact between post-Brexit Britain, Australia and the United States, just hours before the European Commission president stood up to make an ambitious pitch for global leadership, which fell flat.
The deal’s catastrophic significance for the European project is symbolised by the sinking of a prized $37bn nuclear submarine deal between France and Australia.
The Royal Australian Navy will now acquire nuclear subs built in US dockyards as part of Washington’s strategy to take on rising China in the Pacific.
The sequence of events has been described by the traditionally pro-EU FT as “another brutal wake-up call for the EU and France”.
But the torpedoed submarine deal is just the tip of the iceberg. The announcement of the US-UK-Australia pact caught Eurocrats unawares, and came just hours before Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen rose to give her state of the union speech. Her address was loaded with ambitions of global military leadership that now looks fanciful at best – you can read our write-up here.
A spokesperson for the EU’s top diplomat didn’t even bother to try and play down the Anglosphere deal, telling reporters: “The EU was not informed about this project. We are consulting with our partners and asking for more information… We will of course have to discuss this within the EU to assess the implications.”
An EU official told a Sun reporter, the deal “will have no impact on our bilateral relations with the partners in question.”
It doesn’t look that way from a French perspective. Foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian accused the Australians of stabbing his country in the back. “We built a relationship of trust with Australia and this trust was betrayed,” snarled Le Drian on national radio.
Florence Parly, France’s defence minister, blasted the Americans for excluding “a European ally and partner from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”
But how much of an asset would the EU be in the Indo-Pacific, where it has a marginal foothold through a clutch of islands. Through Australia and New Zealand – members of the Five-eyes intelligence sharing partnership with Britain and America – and the United States itself, the English Speaking world has a massive presence in the region.
To make matter worse for the EU, Eurocrats are scheduled to unveil a new strategy for the Indo-Pacific in two days’ time. Its importance has now been significantly downgraded.
There are plenty of other signs the EU is struggling to keep pace with rival powers. Politico report EU diplomats are scrambling to devise sanctions against China for using forced labour after again being caught napping.
Von der Leyen admitted in her speech last night that the EU was hastily putting a package together after Britain, the US and Canada – another member of Five Eyes – had already gone ahead and censured Beijing with trade restrictions.
François Heisbourg a boffin at prominent French think tank, la Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique warned that last night’s stunning series of setbacks, which followed years of diligent work by the French, would “feed the Brexit narrative”.
Let’s hope so, it’s fully deserved.