Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak will aim to turn the page on years of acrimonious relations between their countries when the British premier travels to Paris on Friday.
Sunak’s trip, the first such state visit in five years, comes days after he reached a deal to solve the dispute with the European Union over Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements.
The France-UK relationship is set to warm up after the lows reached under Sunak’s predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who antagonized the French when she said she wasn’t sure whether or not Macron was an ally. King Charles III will also make a state visit to France later this month, with British and French officials describing this as a key period for a reset.
Sharing a banking background — Rothschild & Cie for the French president, 45, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. for Sunak, 42 — the pair will give a press conference at the Elysee palace on Friday afternoon, after an event with businesses including French shipping giant CMA-CGM.
The UK and the EU promised to start on a new chapter last week, as they unveiled a deal for Northern Ireland aimed at ending years of tensions since Britain’s exit from the bloc. The agreement, which still needs formal approval on both sides, has the potential to transform Britain’s uneasy relationship with its most important trading partner.
Sunak hopes the agreement can be used as a springboard for greater cooperation on issues like defense, trade, energy and migration. During the visit to Paris, Sunak will confirm the UK will host next year the fourth meeting of the European political community, a flagship priority of Macron’s foreign agenda.
Immigration has been poisoning the Franco-British relationship for years. Friction reached a high when Macron’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that the UK’s labor policy was too attractive for illegal workers, thus drawing migrants. But both Macron and Sunak have vowed to fight illegal immigration and appear to have moved away from previous blame games.
Weeks after Sunak became prime minister, the two countries renewed an agreement whereby the UK agreed to pay for France to beef up controls on French beaches from where migrants are departing. London has announced new legislation it said will prevent migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, which may however be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and trigger a fresh row with the EU.
Sunak will discuss further joint work with Macron, who will aim to get the UK to sign a multi year agreement on funding cooperation on migration, according to an official in Macron’s office. The pair are unlikely to forge an agreement to return asylum seekers to France, with Macron preferring an EU-wide negotiation on a returns deal.
French utility company Electricite de France SA is central to the UK’s plan to deliver eight new nuclear reactors this decade. The Macron official said securing the details of financing EDF’s Sizewell C nuclear power plant would be top of the agenda. The UK wants private investors to step in, and coordinating with the UK could help France push nuclear power at the EU level, the official added.
Simon Barber, UK managing director for engineering company Assystem, which provides expertise to build reactors in Sizewell and Hinkley Point, told Bloomberg that the two countries can develop a “symbiotic” relationship to make sure expertise travels from one country to another, rather than competing for engineers. Whether or not private investors can be roped in will be on the leaders’ agenda Friday.
The 2021 AUKUS defense deal between London, Canberra and Washington, which resulted in the cancellation of a submarine deal between France and Australia, prompted Paris to protest it had been stabbed in the back. While French officials have been casting doubt on the time line to actually replace Australia’s ageing submarines, Sunak will travel to California to provide details on this deal on Monday.
Macron and Sunak are expected to agree to further coordinate both the supply of weapons to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian marines. They will discuss more integration between weapons systems such as the UK-led Tempest fighter and the Franco-German Future Combat Air System, according to officials in Macron’s office. Also on the agenda is maritime presence in the Indo-Pacific, a zone considered strategic by both powers amid shared concerns over China and North Korea.
Biden’s Green Payouts
Both the UK and the EU have expressed concerns about the impact of President Joe Biden’s massive green subsidy plan. The EU is drawing up measures to combat the package’s support for climate and energy-related technologies, while the UK has excluded rolling out its own subsidy package.
London has privately urged the EU not to harm British companies, while they both lobby Biden’s administration to allow British and EU firms who supply goods to the US to benefit from the same tax credits.