Emmanuel Macron in ‘dark rage’ as French media react to Boris Johnson’s ‘first victory for global Britain’

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Emmanuel Macron - AFP
Emmanuel Macron - AFP

Dubbing Britain’s part in the Australia submarine deal "Johnson’s first victory for Global Britain”, conservative daily Le Figaro was the exception in the French press on Thursday as it pored over the ramifications of the phone call between Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden.

The word “apaisement” – a “false friend” that translates as “soothing” rather than appeasement – was in many headlines to describe the thaw in France-US relations after a week of Gallic fury at losing the submarine "deal of the century".

“Game over or mere respite?,” asked Le Monde in its morning piece, which said President Macron clearly hoped the 30-minute dialogue would help “kickstart his European agenda” – namely a push for greater EU defence and strategic autonomy in the run-up to presidential elections next April.

While it may have provided a thaw, it said, the Macron-Biden call is unlikely to draw the French president into breaking his self-imposed silence since the “major diplomatic crisis” erupted last Wednesday.

Despite howls from rivals that losing the contract of the century is further proof of “France’s decline on the global geopolitical stage,” Le Monde said Mr Macron, who in truth was in a “dark rage” over the affair, “will likely remain mute, claiming thus to embody a ‘responsible’ head of state who is not governed by his emotions”.

As to what Mr Macron gained from the call, the jury is out, said several papers, about Mr Biden’s recognition of the “importance of a stronger and more capable European defence” as a complement to Nato.

Le Figaro wrote that if only for “lancing this boil”, the call “was already important”.

“If these proposals are put into place, Emmanuel Macron, who has made developing European defence the cornerstone of his international policy, will come out of this ahead,” it said.

Watch: Biden call with France's Macron 'friendly' - Psaki

More circumspect, Le Monde said he faced an uphill struggle convincing “numerous” EU countries, particularly in central Europe, “used to living under the American umbrella”.

Le Parisien, which ran the headline: "A phone call, and now what?", cited a unnamed minister as conceding that French pique had reached its limits.

"Frankly, bar getting cross, what can France do in this affair? Nothing. Our levers are very weak."

Contrary to the stance taken by Le Figaro, a member of the minister's LREM party told the paper: "It's not good for his image as head of state and his ability to get his way. It's not good for Europe. It's a diplomatic problem and yes it's a political problem".

Overall, the damage of the sub fiasco to his popularity and re-election hopes may not be great, it added, particularly as the economic fallout from the lost naval contract “appears, for now, to be limited”.

French sub builders Naval Group had not spent much when the contract, which only represented 10 per cent of its overall business, was cancelled and it will be asking for compensation “in the coming weeks”, its boss told Le Figaro.

“All the lights were green” when Australia pulled the plug in “unprecedentedly brutal fashion” at 1.30pm last Wednesday via a conference call, Pierre Eric Pommelet told the paper. “All the conditions were in place for the programme to go to the next stage” that morning.

He insisted the company would be sending its bill for “costs already committed” and extra to dismantle infrastructure in place “in the coming weeks” and intended to ensure its contractual rights were respected “to the letter”.

Left-leaning Libération noted that there was a symbolic disconnect in media coverage “as wide as the time difference” between gushing French reports and the small play the Biden-Macron call received in the US, where Haitian migrants and a Covid summit took precedence.

As for Boris Johnson, Le Figaro said French fury over Britain gazumping it in the sub contract had cast a “chill” that “is serious and could leave marks”.

“The coming weeks will tell whether French anger will ‘trickle down’ as well onto Brexit negotiations,” it said.

“France, often assigned the role of bad cop in the divorce saga with the EU, may not be inclined to leniency in upcoming talks," it warned.

“Trust, already fragile, is no longer there." 

Opposition rivals let rip against Mr Macron in the media on Thursday, with sovereignist Nicolas Dupond-Aignan writing on Twitter: "Doormat leader who prefers to align himself with foreign interests than to defend the Nation".

Socialist Arnaud Montebourg, told France Info: "France can't be the little boy on the luggage rack of the United States and who gets thrown into a ditch when he is longer needed."

"One cannot sit idly by and we must make the Americans pay the political price of this betrayal."

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