French armed forces chief quits after dispute with Macron

Posted July 20, 2017

France's head of the armed forces resigned Wednesday citing cuts to the military's budget under new President Emmanuel Macron.

General Pierre de Villiers, 61, wrote: "In the current circumstances I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defence force that I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people. and to sustain the aims of our country".

The deep cuts to the defense budget have angered the military because Macron has made a point of showing support for the military since coming to power in May.

While that is a relatively small part of the military's budget of €32 billion, it comes after several years of increasing demands on the armed forces, especially in the fight against terrorism. He added that his resignation has been accepted by the President.

In his first defence policy speech last week, Macron said he would not tolerate public dissent from the military. "For me, it is undignified to wash dirty linen in public", he said in an address last week. But he also said that the General had his "full trust" as long as he "knows the chain of command and how it works". The general, who was appointed head of the military in February 2014 and had his tenure extended by Mr Macron in June, had previously spoken out on budget cuts.

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Without naming him directly, Macron then publicly upbraided de Villiers to military officials, saying, "it is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere".

Macron, he said, had named Lecointre and also told ministers at a weekly cabinet meeting that he was still aiming to raise the defence budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025 despite cutbacks in 2017.

While Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2025 as part of France's commitments to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, his budget minister last week announced limits on this year's military expenses as part of an overall spending squeeze.

"Armies basically obey. So in substance the president was within his rights to restate his authority, but the way [Macron] did it will leave marks." former French chief of armed forces Henri Bentégeat told Le Monde. His government said last week it needs to find EUR20 billion of savings next year alone to meet its objectives.