French military head de Villiers quits over cuts

Published: July 19, 2017 22:44:49 | Updated: October 20, 2017 23:28:02

The head of the French armed forces has quit after a clash with President Emmanuel Macron over budget cuts.

Gen Pierre de Villiers on Wednesday said in a statement he could no longer "guarantee the durability of the army model" that he considered necessary to ensure France's protection.

France's government last week revealed major cuts to bring its budget deficit below the level of an EU cap.

Macron had said he would not tolerate dissent from the military.

In a speech at the defence ministry last week, he said: "It is not dignified to hold certain debates in the public arena."

Then in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, he said: "If the military chief of staff and the president are opposed on something, the military chief of staff goes."

But he had also said the general had his "full trust" as long as he "knows the chain of command and how it works".

The pair had been scheduled to meet on Friday to try to sort out their differences.

Gen de Villiers, 60, was infuriated by an €850 million ($975 million; £752 million) cut in the military spending budget for 2017. Most was to come from cuts to equipment.

President Macron wants to get the overall French budget deficit below a European Union cap of 3 per cent of national income for 2017.

As part of that effort, the government has earmarked €850 million in savings in military spending for the year. New equipment orders will be delayed or cancelled and the defence ministry is also being asked to take on the €1.3 billion cost of foreign operations.

However, Mr Macron has also said he wants to raise defence spending in 2018 by €1.5 billion to €34.2 billion.

Furthermore, he has pledged to lift the defence budget from 1.77 per cent of GDP to Nato's target of 2 per cent by 2025. That would mean a sum of €50 billion - at least a further €2 billion each year -unprecedented in France.

It is unclear how these pledges played into Gen de Villiers' thinking, although he told MPs last week: "I know when I am being had."

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