Speech of Mme Florence Parly, French Minister for the Armed Forces, at the signing ceremony [fr]
Canberra, Feb 11, 2019
Mme Florence Parly,
French Minister for the Armed Forces
Dear Prime Minister,
Dear Minister of Defence,
Dear Hervé Guillou,
Dear colleagues and friends,
It is an honor to be here today. Christopher and I thought it was essential that we give appropriate solemnity to this event. And for sure, its immense importance deserves it – as evidenced by the presence of the Prime Minister.
Yes, it was hectic to make it here today. Only 24 hours ago I was in the Near East – it is not exactly “sand and death”, as some recently said; but there is a lot of sand, for sure, and death is never far when we fight the Islamic state. I flew the long flight to come over here. Long hours, sure enough; but less long and less taxing than the 70 days your submariners, one day, will spend inside the powerful Attack submarine.
But on this beautiful Australian summer day, it is an occasion to reflect on what we have achieved. And I do so with a feeling of pride, a feeling of gratefulness, and a deep sense of responsibility in front the challenges ahead.
Pride there is, and pride there should be. The strategic partnering agreement and the other documents signed today mean a lot for our two countries.
The Future Submarine Programme means many things. In military terms, it means that Australia will acquire a world-class capability – truly, the best in the world – that will give your Navy an incredible sovereign tool. In strategic terms, it means Australia will have an edge over the entire region.
In industrial terms, it means a lot, too. Australia will revive a sovereign naval industrial and technological base to build a 4000-tons submarine and sustain a fleet of 12 units. Naval Group will develop a unique design with its finest technologies and know-how. The company will implement a production plan, resting on a domestic supply chain, on the other side of the Earth.
But this is not only a military project, or an industrial project. Behind those masses of dark steel, behind those eyeless beasts, there is, above all, a friendship. A commonality of interests, of vision, of values in the region. A common attachment to democracy, multilateralism, the rules-based order. I takes a lot of confidence, for Australia, to bet on France; and a lot of confidence, too, for France, to share with Australia a capability that is so close to the core of our sovereignty and our strategic autonomy – the result of immense investments over decades.
So when I heard at some point that some were whining about the length of the negotiation, I thought: open your eyes. This is the deal of the century. This is a partnership of a century. We were right to take the time necessary to dot all i’s and to cross all t’s. We want to leave our successors a perfectly sound project – and I believe this is what we will hand over to them.
All this, of course, did not come without extremely hard work. So, today should also be a day of gratefulness.
I would like to congratulate all the actors of the negotiation. Christopher and I, without micromanaging, have been following closely what happened, and we could take the measure of the commitment on both sides. My special thoughts go to Rear Admiral Greg Sammut from the Commonwealth of Australia and Jean-Michel Billig from Naval Group, and also to Thierry Carlier from the French procurement agency. My friends, you did a great job: thank you.
But now that we have come to the end of the land, it is time to look over the cliff’s edge – and one cannot do so without a feeling of awe. How much awaits us. How much we still have to do on both sides to make it happen. For those of you who have visited a naval shipyard, you will see what I mean. Currently in Cherbourg, there is an Australian team working already on the submarine’s design. This is the brainy part. But then we will need yards, steel, kilns; we will need cranes and docks; we will need automats, monitors, robots. An entire industry needs to be reshaped for the operation of this project. This will be no mean feat. It will require a lot from Naval Group, but a lot from Australia too. It will create vast opportunities locally, but it will also be an enormous challenge. But by joining forces, I trust that we will rise to it.
So, as we embark on this long journey together, I can only say to us all: fair winds, and long live the Australian French partnership.