PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has announced the armed forces will be the only government ministry to receive a spending increase next year, as he renewed a pledge to boost the 2018 defense budget to €34.2 billion (U.S. $39.4 billion).
The head of state was speaking Thursday at an air base a day after the resignation of the chief of the armed forces, Army Gen. Pierre de Villiers, in a dispute over an €850 million cut in this year’s defense budget. France has since appointed Army Gen. François Lecointre as the country’s armed forces chief.
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“From 2018, to put us on the trajectory of 2 percent that I have spoken of, the armed forces budget will be increased to €34.2 billion,” he said. “This budget increase, in a year where no other budget will be increased, is remarkable.”
There has never been a €1.8 billion increase in the defense budget over the past few years, he said.
Macron also praised de Villiers, saying he was a “great soldier” and paid him a “warm homage.”
Political parties across the spectrum have criticized the 2017 budget cut, while praising de Villiers, who took an unprecedented step as the top military chief to resign in protest against the president.
The 2018 budget rise is intended to put France on track to hit the NATO target of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025, excluding pensions and overseas operations.
Reaching that objective of some €50 billion calls for an annual €2 billion increase.
Macron “got off on a bad start,” according to Michel Goya, a defense writer and former Army colonel, speaking on France Info radio. The services received “a very cold shower.”
The head of state had said July 13 at a garden party that the defense budget would rise to €34.2 billion, up from €32.7 billion for this year.
Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker, surprised the services by supporting the 2017 spending cut from the Economy and Finance Ministry as he had visited a military hospital and flew to Mali to visit French troops soon after he took office as president in May.
Macron’s visit to the Istres Air Base, in southern France, follows a recent trip to the Navy base at Ile Longue, where he went on board a nuclear ballistic missile submarine.
Istres Air Base supports the airborne nuclear deterrent, seen as a key element in French pursuit of national sovereignty.
Macron has pledged to cut the national deficit to 3 percent of GDP, as requested by the European Union.