French Finance Minister Michel Sapin delivers a speech during a session of Questions to the Government Tuesday in Paris. (Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images)
PARIS — Members of France’s opposition conservative party have called for a parliamentary hearing with Finance Minister Michel Sapin following media reports of planned cuts in the defense budget.
“Following various reports over several days of new drastic cuts in the defense budget, the UMP [Union pour un Mouvement Populaire] members of Parliament on the Defense Committee, through the committee vice-chairman Philippe Vitel, have through the committee meeting this morning — Wednesday May 14 — called formally for a hearing with the finance minister,” the parliamentarians said in a statement.
The call for a hearing follows Sapin’s remarks on Tuesday during parliamentary question time, during which he denied reports of an annual €2 billion (US $2.7 billion) cut from the defense budget.
While Sapin denied the €2 billion figure, he did not rule out a cut, website La Tribune reported. The prime minister’s office has decided on a reduction of €1 billion to €1.2 billion, the website said.
François Auque, chairman of the French unit of Airbus Defence & Space, told journalists on Wednesday that public-private partnerships between government and industry is a possible solution.
Signing service contracts, for example for telecommunications, would spread payments over time, he said, adding that a tightening of the budget could present opportunities.
A good example of a French public-private partnership is the pilot training center at Cognac, said Jean-Marc Nasr, director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at the Airbus division. Such outsourcing deals could help “to fill the breach,” Nasr said.
Airbus holds the Cognac contract, which operates 134 aircraft and delivers 60,000 flight hours in the air and on eight simulators.
The 2014-19 military budget law has set an annual defense budget of €31.5 billion, totaling €190 billion over the six years. That budget plan requires asset sales to hit the annual figure.
Conservative member of Parliament Xavier Bertrand disclosed the plans to trim military spending on Sunday on Europe 1 radio, prompting Sapin’s denial of the €2 billion figure in Parliament.
The conservative parliamentarians said in their statement that defense has already made a big effort to help balance the nation’s finances.
A military budget law was voted in at the end of 2013, and six months later it is under grave threat, putting the armed forces’ capabilities into doubt, the statement said.
“At a time when our forces are committed in particularly difficult campaigns, the UMP members of Parliament on the Defense Committee call on the finance minister to clearly explain himself on this issue and ensure the president’s commitments, often given, that the budget is ringfenced will be observed,” the statement said.
The government is struggling to find ways to slash €50 billion off the national budget, needed to trim the overall deficit.
French President François Hollande has said the defense budget would be ringfenced from cuts, but that was before he recently announced the €50 billion reduction. ■