By Richard Lough
CHERBOURG, France – Teaching assistant Georgina was settling into a new life in the shipbuilding town of Cherbourg with her Australian husband when Canberra revealed she was canceling the $ 40 billion submarine order on which he had been sent to France.
Ten months after the couple arrived in France, Georgina had been in a new job for two weeks when Australia announced that the agreement with the French naval group for the supply of a dozen diesel-powered submarines was dead.
They were both still in shock, she said.
“It’s a shame we love him here,” she said, declining to use her full name due to the sensitivity of her husband’s role in the Australian Navy. “We don’t know yet (what’s next)”
Its story is an example of how the dramatic loss of the huge contract sent shockwaves through the Norman port city, threatening jobs and economic recovery.
Paris and the shipbuilder Naval Group said Canberra kept it a secret that it would break the French contract and instead establish a security pact with the United States and Britain that would help Australia to acquire American nuclear submarines.
As a sign of how the company plans to move forward with the next design phase of the project, ten more Australian engineers and their families arrived in Cherbourg this month, a company spokesperson said.
Séverine Chesnel expected to place more Australian children in the bilingual Montessori primary school that she co-founded. On the morning of September 15, the day Australia made the deal, a Naval Group employee called to arrange registrations for the following week, she said.
“That’s how brutal the surprise was,” Chesnel said. Three of its six English-speaking employees were partners of Australians working on the submarine project and whose future was now uncertain, she added.
“We are not the most affected, we are just collateral damage,” she said, referring to the school.
The order from Australia accounted for 10% of annual revenue for Naval Group, which unions say employs 3,400 people in the city. Subcontractors provide hundreds of additional jobs locally.
The Company had been “hit but not sunk,” Pierre Eric Pommellet, managing director of Naval Group, told Le Figaro. He hoped to reassign the 500 Cherbourg employees working on the Australian order to other projects.
“It’s not easy,” said Marc Torres, member of the CFE–CCG union. “But he reassured us. For the moment, no one is talking about the social plan.
Residents and local officials say the Australian contract – under which the submarines would be designed in France and built in Australia – boosted the local economy when it was signed in 2016 and boosted morale in the city by 80,000. residents.
The cancellation would have a ripple effect as hiring slows down at Naval Group and subcontractors grapple with the brutal order freeze, said David Margueritte, vice-president of the Normandy regional authority.
“There will be economic repercussions, there is no denying it, but they will be amortized by the fact that Naval Group has strong orders from the French State in its books,” he added. .
In a city proud of its shipbuilding prowess, the way the contract came into government hands is in turmoil. France says it was stabbed in the back by close allies.
“They play with people’s lives,” said Anne-Marie Quintin, whose nephew followed her brother into a career with Naval Group.