Emmanuel Macron and Anthony Albanese have formally reset relations between their countries, with the French president saying Australia’s new prime minister was not to blame for the submarine row.
The two leaders shared a warm public exchange in the courtyard of the French presidential palace, along with their partners, in what Mr Albanese said was a “new start”.
The relationship repair came nine months after former Prime Minister Scott Morrison infuriated the French by scrapping a $90 billion submarine deal with France’s Naval Group to pursue the AUKUS security alliance.
Mr Macron publicly accused Mr Morrison of lying about the contract after France was blindsided by Australia’s decision to buy UK or US nuclear-powered subs.
Mr Albanese visited Mr Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday and had a one-on-one working lunch before the pair released a joint statement which talked about moving forward.
They had previously met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid.
When asked if Australia should apologise for the scrapped deal, Mr Macron said: “He’s not responsible for what happened.”
“We speak of the future, not the past.”
Mr Albanese said his presence in France represented a “new start for our countries’ relationship”.
“Australia’s relationship with France matters. Trust, respect and honesty matter. This is how I will approach my relations.”
In a joint statement released to mark the meeting, the leaders agreed to cooperate on defence, climate and education and culture.
This included shaping a new defence relationship, enhancing security cooperation with Pacific countries, supporting each other’s deployments and conducting more joint maritime activities.
“Australia and France will explore initiatives to increase defence industry cooperation to support and deliver capabilities to our respective defence forces,” said the statement.
France also welcomes Australia’s “new commitment to ambitious action on climate change”.
Earlier, Mr Macron had singled out Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek at a UN Oceans Conference in Portugal and said “You’re back.”
“Because we need you in the Indo-Pacific strategy, and climate and oceans is part of the strategy for us,” said Mr Macron.
Ahead of his meeting in France, Mr Albanese said it was time for the relationship between Paris and Canberra to “enter a new dawn” after a “breakdown”.
The prime minister said he would also discuss a free trade deal with Europe during his meeting with Mr Macron which had also stalled under the previous Morrison government.
The fractured relations between the nations was one of two reasons negotiations for the trade deal didn’t move forward, the other being a lack of climate change action by Australia.
Mr Albanese also met with France’s peak business body, Mouvement des Entreprises de France, to discuss investment opportunities in Australia.
Earlier, the prime minister met with former Coalition finance minister and current OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, with the pair warmly shaking hands in front of flags representing its member nations.
He then addressed the OECD council and was asked questions by members, including from the US about Australia’s action on climate change, from Lithuania on Australia’s military aid to Ukraine, and from Japan about international law in the Indo-Pacific.
When asked if French businesses could trust him after the “betrayal” and “deception” over the submarine contract under the previous coalition government, Mr Albanese said “absolutely”.
“Everyone should be able to trust me, that’s the way I deal with people … that’s how I got to be prime minister,” he said.
The Morrison government decided to scrap the contract with Naval Group last year in favour of nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the AUKUS partnership with the UK and US.
Mr Macron later told Australian journalists “I don’t think, I know” when asked if he thought former Prime Minister Scott Morrison had lied to him in his handling of the issue.
In his first phone call with his new Australian counterpart after the May election, Mr Macron reminded Mr Albanese of what Paris described as a “severe breach of trust”.
Meanwhile, Mr Albanese is awaiting security advice on whether he can safely visit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after an invitation by President Volodymyr Zelensky.