The European Union is discussing a possible delay of upcoming trade talks with the U.S. following outrage from France over a canceled Australian submarine contract that was scuttled in favor of a new defense pact with Washington and the U.K.
France asked the European Commission to postpone the first meeting of the Trade and Technology Council that was due to gather in Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, according to EU diplomats who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential.
The EU was seeking to use the Pittsburgh meeting to hammer out a framework to screen potentially hostile foreign investments, cooperate on export controls, discuss artificial intelligence and address critical supply chain gaps of goods like semiconductors. But more importantly, it would have symbolized a conciliation after four years of transatlantic trade conflict with former President Donald Trump.
“When you give your word it has some value between allies, between democracies, between partners. And in this case, this word was not respected,” France’s minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. “We have to be firm, not as French but as Europeans.”
The French request met with resistance because some member states saw it as shooting themselves in the foot, according to one diplomat. Some criticized France for failing to show solidarity in separate cases, like a border clash between Lithuania and Belarus. The issue is still undecided and will be studied by EU ambassadors on Friday.
The commission, the EU’s executive arm, is studying the impact that the new defense pact will have on the schedule for the trade and technology council meeting, a spokesperson said.
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told CNN that “a lot of questions” must be answered about the submarine deal.
“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, adding that the situation must be clarified “before you keep on going with business as usual.”
EU foreign ministers voiced “solidarity” with France after Australia, AFP reported, citing the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell.
“I will not say it has broken ties, I will say it creates a difficult situation,” Beaune said. “Because we are allies, because we are partners, we cannot pretend there is no problem.”
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