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Macron says Europeans need to stop being naive and assert independence from the United States

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a news conference with the Greek prime minister at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Tuesday. (Ludovic Marin/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron urged Europeans to "come out of their naivete" on the world stage and assert their independence from the United States, sending one of the strongest signals to date that the diplomatic crisis prompted by a disrupted submarine deal could have long-lasting repercussions on transatlantic relations.

Speaking alongside the Greek prime minister Tuesday at a news conference to unveil a major Franco-Greek defense deal, Macron said the Europeans should make themselves “respected.”

“For a bit over 10 years now, the United States has been very focused on itself and has strategic interests that are being reoriented towards China and the Pacific,” he said.

“It’s in their right to do so,” he continued, but “we would be naive, or rather we would make a terrible mistake, to not want to draw the consequences.”

Macron’s comments came almost two weeks after an announcement that the United States had formed an alliance with Australia and Britain that allows Australia to purchase U.S. nuclear submarine technology. That deal effectively canceled an arrangement under which Australia had been set to purchase diesel-powered French vessels — and prompted public outrage from French officials, who said they were blindsided by the secret negotiations.

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the incident a “break of trust between allies” and recalled the country’s ambassadors from the United States and Australia.

Last week, Macron and President Biden sought to clear the air in a phone call requested by the White House. Afterward, France said it would send its ambassador back to Washington.

In a joint statement, Biden and Macron said the United States “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO.”

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Macron echoed that statement Tuesday, saying the United States is “a great historical ally and an ally in terms of values. And that’ll remain the case.” A greater European emphasis on its own defense would be complementary and not constitute an “alternative to our alliance with the United States,” he said, adding that it would happen “within the framework of NATO.”

Macron has struck a similar tone in the past — two years ago, he said NATO was becoming brain dead — but his latest remarks come as he appears to position himself as the next leader of Europe, an unofficial role so far largely attributed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel will soon step down, and after Sunday’s narrow election results in Germany it remains unclear who will succeed her. A coalition announcement may be weeks or months away.

France will assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, one of the bloc’s most powerful decision-making bodies, early next year. Analysts expect that Macron will make European strategic autonomy a key topic.

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“As President Macron said, Europeans must draw the consequences of long-term shifts in U.S. foreign policy,” said Pierre Morcos, a French fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Having said that, the French president has been crystal clear that reinforcing Europe’s ability to defend its own interest would never be an alternative or substitution to the transatlantic alliance,” he said.

Tuesday’s news conference, highlighting the deepening defense cooperation between France and Greece, appeared to reflect the French leader’s broader ambitions. Under the deal announced, Greece will purchase French warships for at least $3.5 billion, but the two countries will also pursue a joint defense partnership.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis backed Macron’s vision Tuesday. Their deal “opens the door to the Europe of tomorrow that is strong and autonomous,” he said.

But the strategy could backfire, some cautioned. “For Europe to achieve strategic autonomy — in tech, in cyber, in intelligence, in military hardware — is a very, very elusive goal. The U.S. won’t take it seriously, and many European countries won’t believe in it either,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council.

“Europe’s goal, vis-a-vis the U.S., should not be maximum independence but maximum interdependence. Make the U.S. more reliant on Europe, and you will make Europe more powerful, not less,” he said.

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