PARIS – François Fillon, the presidential candidate of the conservative Les Republicains party, has pledged in his campaign plan to boost French defense spending to two percent of gross domestic product by 2025.
Fillon, a former prime minister, late last month won a surprise victory in closely fought primaries to stand as the LR candidate in next year's presidential election.
"I take aim for a target for defense spending, including pensions, of 2 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the next military budget law," he said in his campaign document. "This calls for an extra effort of close to €2 billion ($2 billion) each year."
"It is credible, depending on the evolution of the budgetary situation," said François Géré, chairman of think tank Institut Français d'Analyse Stratégique. Much depends on the financial audit of the defense sector, but there is little doubt the incoming president and administration will find an extremely stretched situation.
Those financial difficulties likely will lead Fillon to try to persuade trade unions that jobs and industry would benefit from boosting military spending, he said.
The present six-year military budget law runs to 2019, with the next multiyear law to be adopted in 2020, two years after the presidential election to be held in a two-step ballot in April and May.
Fillon would order an audit of defense spending so the next military budget law would take into account new arms programs, service support and payment of personnel.
There is an annual requirement of an extra €3-€4 billion to 2022, as more than 85 percent of large equipment orders for the next 10 years have been placed, he said. That was expected to require an annual procurement budget of €10 billion, while the present funding was around €6 billion.
New arms programs should be launched to plug capability gaps such as light aircraft, transport planes and airborne intelligence gathering, he said. Studies for replacement of the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier should also be considered.
Designing and building a replacement warship would take at least 10 years, two defense specialists said.
The French Navy will soon put the aircraft carrier into an 18-month-long nuclear refueling and complex overhaul.
Apart from large arms programs, small projects which help the everyday life of service personnel should also be funded, Fillon said. Modern equipment requires a high level of service and old equipment is falling obsolete, leading to a low level of availability. That service support should be factored in when arms programs are designed.
France should master technology of future systems, particularly drones, artificial intelligence, robots and the digital domain, with the government encouraging industry to acquire the necessary know-how, he said.
Fillon also called for European allies to join French forces in overseas operations or help finance them, once backed by a UN security council resolution.
Pollsters forecast Fillon will stand in the final round of ballots in May against Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National. Le Pen applauded the victory of president elect Donald Trump. President François Hollande has said he will not stand in the elections, while Manuel Valls stepped down as prime minister to stand in the socialist party primaries in January.
Defense is the third item on the national budget, with spending on education the highest figure, followed by debt repayment. France is under pressure from the European Union to cut its national deficit to 3 percent of GDP, as required by the Maastricht Treaty.
France spends some 1.5 percent of GDP, excluding pensions, on defense. Once pensions are included, the figure rises to 1.8 percent.
Fillon's call for hitting the 2 percent target by 2025 would fall on the shoulders of another president as his presidency would end in 2022 if he were elected next year, business website La Tribune reported.
Fillon served as prime minister 2007 to 2012 under the then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. The services cut 54,000 jobs under the 2009-2014 military budget law in a bid to meet spending targets.