French armed forces chief quits over Macron's defence budget cuts

Posted July 20, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose armed forces chief quit on Wednesday in a row over short-term spending cuts, confirmed after naming a replacement that he still meant to raise the defence budget over time, a government spokesman said.

"In the current circumstances, I consider I am no longer able to ensure the durability of the model of the army that I believe in to guarantee the protection of France and French people, today and in the future", Villiers said in a statement announcing his resignation.

In his first political test at home, Macron, the youngest head of state in France's modern history, stressed that despite the planned spending cut, the defence budget "will protect the country".

The cuts are part of 4.5 billion euros to public spending that Macron's centrist government has pledged. But it is also his method. De Villiers' noisy departure is rare.

Macron then publicly upbraided him, saying, "it is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere".

And that felt like a humiliation.

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And in an interview published Sunday, Macron said: "If something comes in between the military chief of staff and the president, the military chief of staff [must] change".

"It's clear today that the executive can not bear a situation where its top public servants have a view of things that is different from the political view put together by the Elysee", Gen Vincent Desportes, former head of France's top main military school, said.

A fierce row broke out last week between the two men just two months after Macron was elected, and just as France prepared for the military pomp of a July 14 Bastille Day parade where Macron's USA counterpart Donald Trump was the guest of honour. President Macron wants to get the overall French budget deficit below a European Union cap of 3% of national income for 2017.

However, Mr Macron has also said he wants to raise defence spending in 2018 by €1.5bn to €34.2bn. His government said last week it needs to find EUR20 billion of savings next year alone to meet its objectives.

De Villiers lashed out at the spending curbs during a closed-door parliamentary commission meeting, according to leaked reports.