French armed forces chief resigns over budget cuts row with Macron

The head of France’s armed forces, General Pierre de Villiers has resigned after a furious row with the President Emmanuel Macron over defense budget cuts.

The General said that if the budget cuts went through it would leave him in charge of an army “no longer able to guarantee the robust defence force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people, today and tomorrow.”

As a result he had tendered his resignation to the newly-elected president and it had been accepted, he said in a statement.

General de Villiers, was infuriated when Macron announced plans to slash military spending by 850 million euros (US$975 million) to bring France’s deficit below the EU limit of 3 per cent GDP. Most of the cuts will be in equipment for the Army, Air Force and Navy.

France has the seventh highest defense budget in the world, below Britain and India, but way ahead of Germany, which is still constrained by constitutional limits set after the Second World War.

The row between Mr Macron and General de Villiers erupted late last week when the furious chief-of-staff told a parliamentary defence committee he would not sit idly by while the armed forces were “screwed” by the drastic cuts ordered by the finance ministry.

In his first defence policy speech last week, Mr Macron said he would not tolerate public dissent from the military.

“For me it’s undignified to wash dirty linen in public,” he told dozens of top army officers and their families in a traditional annual address.

“I have made commitments, I am your boss…what I like is the sense of duty, the sense of discretion that has taken our army to where it is today. And what I sometimes find hard to tolerate in certain sectors, I tolerate it even less when it comes to our military.”

De Villiers was appointed by President Francois Hollande in 2014, and he was in charge of French military strikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq following the Paris attacks in November 2015.

The military budget cuts were part of the French President’s programme aiming to achieve €60bn (53bn) of savings over five years – while upholding an election pledge to cut taxes.

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