Emmanuel Macron was all smiles as he met PM Albanese for the first time – but he couldn’t resist a pointed remark about his predecessor.
French President Emmanuel Macron took a sly dig at Scott Morrison during his first one-on-one meeting with Anthony Albanese, warmly welcoming the new Prime Minister to Paris and saying he was “not responsible” for the diplomatic furore after a $90 billion submarine deal was scrapped.
Mr Albanese met the French head of state in at the President’s official residence, the Elysee Palace, on Friday following the NATO defence summit in Madrid.
“My presence here represents a new start for our countries’ relationship,” Mr Albanese said.
“Australia’s relationship with France matters. Trust, respect and honesty matter. This is how I will approach my relations.”
Mr Macron said that the first conversations between the pair since Mr Albanese’s election in May “mark a willingness to rebuild a relationship of trust between our two countries, a relationship based on mutual respect”.
Mr Macron was left fuming last year after Mr Morrison secretly negotiated the AUKUS agreement with the UK and US to buy a nuclear powered submarine fleet and ditch a landmark contract with France signed in 2016 and worth $50 billion at the time.
France broke off diplomatic contacts with Australia and, infamously, when Mr Macron was asked by an Australian reporter if he through Mr Morrison had lied, he said he did not “think,” he “knew”.
Mr Albanese announced earlier this month that French submarine maker Naval Group had agreed to a “fair and an equitable settlement” $A851 million for Australia ending the decade-old submarine contract.
Albanese ‘not responsible’
During Friday’s meeting, the French President was asked if Mr Albanese should apologise on behalf of Australia about the diplomatic spat.
But Mr Macron said the blame did not lie with the current PM.
“We will speak about the future, not the past.
“He is not responsible for what happened.”
Indeed, the meeting between the two leaders was full to the brim with bonhomie.
Mr Macron put his arm around the PM, laughed and winked.
France considers itself to be a Pacific power, thanks to its overseas territories including New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and shares Australia’s concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region.
Mr Albanese and Mr Macron also stressed their common views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with both countries supplying weapons to Kyiv.
“My government strongly condemns Russia’s illegal and totally unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Mr Albanese said.
“I commend President Macron’s leadership in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the struggle of the people of Ukraine.”
Mr Macron praised Albanese’s commitment to the fight against climate change.
“The new Australian position — proactive, ambitious — offers us opportunities to advance together,” Mr Macron said.
Morrison’s predecessor as premier, Malcolm Turnbull, said the meeting in Paris on Friday was a “big opportunity” to help Paris and Canberra get over a “very bad period” when the French government did not even “pick up the phone”.
Mr Albanese “is not Scott Morrison, so that’s a big advantage”, he told French journalists at an event organised by the Institut Montaigne in Paris.