French President Emmanuel Macron isn’t mad at just the US nowadays after Washington outmanoeuvred Paris over a multi-billion dollar submarine deal with Australia it believed was safe.
Now neighbouring Switzerland has also drawn Macron’s ire after the country’s politicians decided to procure the American F35-A Lightning II fighter jet in a deal that amounts to more than $6.5 billion - rejecting the French Rafale fighter jet alternative, amongst others.
For months behind the scenes, France was lobbying intensively to win the bid, even offering Switzerland additional political support at the EU level. Now that has come to nought, Macron cancelled a meeting with his Swiss counterpart, Guy Parmelin, in apparent anger at the decision.
This decision follows the withdrawal of ambassadors from Washington and Canberra by Paris.
A British politician warned that France’s overreaction indicates that the west is in a “dangerous state of flux,” adding that there is an urgent need to “check growing division."
France, however, may have other ideas. Paris’ latest salvo to bring its European Union counterparts on its side is for France to place its UN security council seat “at the disposal of the European Union.”
In turn, they would need to agree to Macron’s plan for an EU army - which has been largely resisted by other countries in the bloc who fear it could erode the US security presence on the continent.
The French political class has a long track record of seeking to extricate their country and also the wider continent of what they say is an excessive military dependence on America. Such ambitions, however, have been called “confused, quixotic—and reckless.”
While a European army remains a distant prospect in what is a slow-moving body Macron likely senses an opportunity to take the mantle in the continent as the EU’s most important leader in two decades, Germany’s Angela Merkel, prepares to exit the political scene later this month.
In seeking to create a sharp distinction between the US and the EU, Macron has used some blistering language to describe Washington’s actions: “lies,” “duplicity,” and “brutality."
Following the UK’s exit from the EU, France remains the only member state to have a permanent seat at the UN body, giving the country an unusually high degree of international influence. In contrast, the EU only has observer status.
Speaking at an event organised by the Atlantic Council, Thierry Breton, a Frenchman and the EU trade commissioner, warned that “There is a growing feeling in Europe — and I say this with regret — that something is broken in our trans-Atlantic relations.”
“Trust is not a given,” Mr Breton said in his speech. “And after the latest events, there is a strong perception that trust between the EU and US has been eroded.”
For Macron, who in the past has called NATO, the security alliance binding the European continent and the US, “brain dead” looks increasingly inclined to build a counter alliance where France would have a meaningful say and arguably a more guaranteed market for its weapons.
After more than a four-decade absence, France, who only rejoined the NATO alliance in 2009, could leave again if it wanted to further escalate its bitter row against the US. The idea, far from being far fetched, is making the rounds in certain circles.
One French politician called for a NATO summit to ask the Americans if they “respect us” and “if the answer does not satisfy us, I wish to put on the table the question of the participation of France in the integrated command of NATO”.
Yet, while EU officials have slowly and faithfully come out to support Macron, European capitals have been more muted. Easter European countries in particular but not exclusively have been largely silent on what some national politicians are keen to compartmentalise the spat as a French-US bilateral issue.
In the alliance of networks, Paris increasingly looks isolated and alone as it seeks to regain its stature.