The Aukus security pact – a submarine deal signed between the US, UK and Australia – continues causing offence on the continent, with European nations taking the perceived slight “very seriously”. Now, rumours are mounting that NATO is slipping out of US President Joe Biden’s grip, and France could be the first to cut its losses.
Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden are due to have a phone call this week, although the French President has been suspiciously quiet on the Aukus announcement to date, which saw a deal between France and Australia torn up to seal the deal.
Others within his administration have been more vocal. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it “a stab in the back”.
Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton said “something is broken” in transatlantic relations, in an interview with the Financial Times this week.
He added: “It’s true that we hear some voices in Europe saying that probably after what happened over the past two months, it may be a good idea to reassess everything we are doing, and our partnership.”
And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told CNN: “One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we want to know what happened and why.
“You first of all clarify that, before you keep on going with business as usual.”
READ MORE: Ursula Von der Leyen orders stop to ‘business as usual’ with US’
So could this mean European nations, including France, might be reconsidering their role in NATO altogether?
A snippet from the POLITICO Playbook said: “While some officials say the French may still be considering their next move, there are those who worry Paris could be looking afresh at its role in NATO.”
Across the Atlantic, concerns are also growing that NATO is slipping out of America’s grip.
In a piece for The Spectator, US deputy editor Dominic Green wrote: “Biden’s administration, like Trump’s, is committed to building its Pacific alliances while sustaining Nato.
“Yet on Australia as in Afghanistan, the Biden team are doing exactly what they accused Trump of: unpicking the frayed bonds of Nato without a clear idea of what might replace it.”
The clearest message yet from Paris came last week, when the French ambassador to Washington was “withdrawn for consultations”.
Mr Green wrote: “The contempt with which the Biden team treated its allies in the withdrawal from Afghanistan gave notice to the Europeans that they’re on their own.
“While Trump merely demanded the Europeans sustain Nato by spending their promised share, Biden has shown the US doesn’t care at all.
“The result is dissension and disorder among Europe’s biggest Nato members – problems the Biden administration has dramatically worsened, and which Macron is now worsening even more dramatically.”
Calls within the EU to strengthen autonomous military might is on the rise.
This week, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said a new EU force could be “part of the solution” to the problems resulting from the situation.
Ms von der Leyen said it “is time for Europe to step up to the next level” by developing an EU military.
She added that the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan showed that the bloc needed the “political will” to intervene without a US-led NATO.
But first, Mr Macron and Mr Biden must have their highly anticipated phone call.
Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for the French Government, said: “President Biden asked to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between President Macron and President Biden.”
France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancellation of the submarine order, he said.
The scrapped France-Australia deal was worth some $90bn, and France isn’t letting go of the contractual clauses.
Mr Attal said that after the initial “shock” of the cancellation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side.