Aukus row: European Union demands apology from Australia over France's treatment before trade talks

The European Union is demanding answers – and an apology from Australia – over its treatment of France as the fallout from the Aukus announcement threatens to delay a key trade deal.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Australia’s hopes of entering into a free-trade agreement with the European Union hit rough waters with the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, demanding Australia explain its conduct in defence of EU member state France.

The Morrison government announced it was cancelling its $90bn submarine contract with the French and entering into a “forever partnership” with the United States and United Kingdom in a new agreement known as Aukus late last week.

The French claimed to have been “blindsided” by the announcement. Despite attempts to soothe the diplomatic row, the French recalled their ambassador and have asked the EU to reconsider Australia’s involvement in a free-trade deal with the EU.

© Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images Australian prime minister Scott Morrison says a trade deal with the European Union is ‘not an easy thing to do’.

While trade talks with Australia are expected to continue as planned, von der Leyen said Australia had some explaining to do first.

“One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we want to know what happened and why,” von der Leyen said in an interview with CNN.

“Therefore, you first of all clarify that, before you keep on going with business as usual.”

The chair of the European Parliament’s committee on International Trade, Bernd Lange, continued that theme in an interview with the ABC on Tuesday.


Video: France pushes to intercept Europe-Australia Free Trade Agreement (Sky News Australia)

“It is really an unkind situation France is faced with,” he said, adding that the he expected to see “some kind of apology, some kind of de-escalation of the situation, from the Australian government” to help for “better understanding”.

“The question of trust is now occurring, and some members could ask for more safety nets, for more safeguards,” he said.

European leaders will meet in New York to consider the response to the axing of the French deal in favour of the Aukus pact. The US president, Joe Biden, has asked for talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in an attempt to mend relations. The French have agreed to a phone conversation in the coming days.

Related: France tries to delay EU-Australia trade deal amid Aukus fallout

Scott Morrison, who is in New York ahead of his first meeting with Biden, said there was “no opportunity at this time” for his own talks with Macron.

“I’m sure that opportunity will come in time,” he said from New York. “Right now I understand the disappointment and they’re working through the consultations with their ambassador’s return to Paris and we’ll be patient with that.”

Morrison said he took heart from European Commission foreign affairs head Josep Borrell’s comments to “not mix apples and pears” last week, when it came to Australia’s involvement in the EU free-trade agreement.

“I think that’s a pretty good summary of the situation,” he said.

“I mean, these issues will be worked through in the weeks and months ahead. It’s not an easy thing to do, to get an agreement with the European Union on trade, I think everyone understands that.”

While French anger continues to simmer, Australia’s diplomats have been working overtime to reassure Australia’s partners in the Indo-Pacific the Aukus deal will not affect the region.

Morrison spoke with the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, on his way to New York to “assure him of Indonesia’s key areas of interest” including that Australia would “maintain all of our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and the nuclear non-proliferation regime” and that the Aukus agreement “would contribute to peace and stability and a strategic balance in the region”. Australia will send a team to Indonesia to issue further briefings on what the new strategic agreement will mean.

The phone call came on the back of the Australia’s ambassador to Asean sending a statement to south-east Asian nations reiterating Australia’s commitment to Asean goals, while reiterating Aukus was not “a defence alliance or pact”.

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