March 4. 2024. 9:50

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France-UK to attempt mending ties with joint summit


France and the UK are set to meet in a bid to mend relations between Western Europe’s biggest military and diplomatic powers after years of post-Brexit tensions and animosity over the AUKUS security pact between the UK, US, and Australia.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to welcome British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to Paris on Friday (10 March) for the first joint government summit between the neighbours in five years.

With French and British officials briefing that the summit will produce “tangible results”, Paris and London are expected to sign a joint declaration on defence, immigration, security, the economy, and energy.

The push comes after relations between the two steadily deteriorated, with bitter rows over submarine contracts, fishing rights and who was to blame for the deaths of people trying to reach the UK coast on small boats.

Observers see the departure of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as the war in Ukraine, as having helped bring the estranged Western allies back together.

Announcements on the training of Ukrainian forces, as well as fresh cooperation on future weapons development and nuclear energy, are also expected after a working lunch, the officials said, stressing “the opportunity to work more closely”.

Preventing migrants from crossing the English Channel from continental Europe to Britain is set to be a leading topic of talks, with Sunak having made stopping migrant boat crossings one of his domestic priorities.

The joint declaration, which was “still under negotiation” 48 hours before the summit, is expected to bring clarity on the issue, according to officials from both sides.

London agreed to pay Paris another €72.2 million under a deal last November that aimed to deploy an additional 350 people to detect and prevent migrant boat crossings.

Around 800 people including regular police, border control forces and customs officers are deployed daily in anti-migrant operations in northern France, according to recent figures from French authorities.

On defence, the two leaders are keen to reaffirm France and the UK’s strong support for Ukraine, an area in which they wish to deepen bilateral cooperation.

After the diplomatic incident over AUKUS – when Australia ditched French submarines and instead signed a new defence pact with the UK and the US – Paris and London also wish to strengthen defence cooperation, for example by coordinating the deployments in the Indo-Pacific area and by continuing the projects on the future anti-ship cruise missile and on the joint nuclear mission, whose work will be “intensified”.

Matters for cooperation described as more distant include exploring cooperation on directed energy weapons, “strike in depth” and air defence, which will also be part of a European agenda.

At the same time, the two countries confirm their will to establish “a common agenda” on the next steps of the European Political Community, which is of particular interest to the UK, in the post-Brexit context.

After the inaugural summit last year in Prague, leaders of the newly established format are expected to meet in Chisinau, Moldova, in June.

On the economic front, announcements of investments by French companies in the UK and British companies in France will be made, in order to demonstrate “the vitality and density of trade relations”, explained the French president’s office, the Elysée.

Finally, a “strategic partnership on energy” will be launched by the two ministers in charge of the portfolio, particularly with regard to nuclear energy. This should also be an opportunity to insist on “the role of nuclear power in decarbonisation”. It is a question of “strategic operational cooperation on the functioning, of nuclear safety”.

“Defining a common ambition with the British can help us on the European stage,” the Elysée said.

In addition to the substantive issues, the meeting is all the more important as France and the UK want to “forge a renewed relationship” that benefits both, EURACTIV was told by a British source close to the dossier.

On the French side, there is also talk of a desire to strengthen ties that were distended after Brexit, the health crisis and the AUKUS episode. The last such summit took place in 2018, between Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May.

France and UK to cooperate in preventing asylum-seekers crossing Channel

The British and French home affairs ministers reached an agreement on Monday (14 November) to strengthen their cooperation in stopping asylum-seekers crossing the English Channel in small boats.