France to hike defence spending to 300 billion euros over 6 years

France is to raise spending on its military by more than 40 percent with much of the money going to nuclear weapons and new equipment. The hike will mean the country reaches a Nato target of two percent of GDP on defence by 2025.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly after the cabinet meeting
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly after the cabinet meeting REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A bill discussed in cabinet on Thursday proposes spending 295 billion euros on the armed forces between 2019 and 2025, following a decade of budgetary restraint that saw 60,000 jobs go.

This year's budget of 34.2 billion euros will rise 1.7 billion euros annually until 2022 and then by three billion euros a year for the following three years, assuming that the next government sticks with the plan.

The spending spree will place the burden of austerity on other branches of government, who have been ordered to cut spending to reach the EU's target of a deficit of 2.0 percent of GDP.

The armed forces ministry intends to create 6,000 jobs for military and civilian personnel between now and 2025, 1,500 of them in cyberdefence and 1,500 in intelligence.

The turnaround in policy began under the previous government in 2015 because of the Paris terror attacks.

But they are also in line with the Nato plan and US President Donald Trump's demand that European members contribute more to the military alliance.

Sahel, Middle East, terror

The extra spending was an election campaign commitment by President Emmanuel Macron, who has vaunted his commitment to the military, despite a public spat with chief of staff General Pierre de Villiers, who resigned after Macron reproached him for criticising budgetary rigour in blunt terms in public.

De Villiers on Wednesday welcomed the pledge, while calling for "vigilance" to ensure that it was carried out, especially in the three years following the next elections, which may or may not see Macron and his party reelected.

The French military is currently involved in major operations in France itself, with 7,000 soldiers on the streets for the Sentinelle anti-terror campaign, in Africa, in particular in Mali and the Sahel, and in the Middle East, with its participation in the US-led anti-jihadist offensive in Syria and Iraq.

The government's strategy also takes account of a new assertiveness on the part of countries like Russia and China and the risk of cyberwarfare.

Training, equipment, nuclear

France and Britain, which both have nuclear weapons, are Europe's major military powers with Germany far behind due to its limited military expansion following World War II.

If Germany were to reach the Nato target it would almost double its defence budget to 60 billion euros.

Much of the new spending has been earmarked for better training and better equipment, such as new bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles.

Ageing armoured personnel carriers, refuelling aircraft and ships will also be replaced.

Intelligence gathering will benefit from the purchase of Reaper drones, satellites and boats, which should reduce reliance on the US in that field.

And an estimated 37 billion euros will be spent on updating the nuclear arsenal over the course of Macron's term in office.

No new aircraft carrier ... yet

During a New Year speech to the troops at the Toulon naval base in January, Macron ruled out the construction of a new aircraft carrier to supplement the Charles de Gaulle, France's only such ship at the moment.

But, since the Charles de Gaulle has been in service for 20 years and will be decommissioned in about 22 years' time, the ministry has commissioned a study for a replacement and says it might be become operational while the older carrier is still operational.

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