19, July 2017
France’s military chief has resigned following a public dispute with President Emmanuel Macron over the government’s proposed defense budget cuts. The head of the French armed forces, General Pierre de Villiers, said in a statement on Wednesday that he had tendered his resignation to the president and that it had been accepted.
Villiers explained that with the financial constraints imposed on the army, he was “no longer able to guarantee the robust defense force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people, today and tomorrow, and to sustain the aims of our country.”
A disagreement between the army chief and Macron started last week when the government revealed the details of a plan to make 850-million-euro cuts to the 2017 military spending. The government said the move was aimed at bringing France’s deficit to below the European Union’s limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The general protested the plan the following day at the president’s own council of defense and the parliament’s defense commission. Macron reacted to his remarks last Friday, saying, “For me, it is undignified to wash dirty linen in public. I am your leader; I need no pressure, no comment.”
Only two days later, Macron told Journal du Dimanche that if de Villiers “has an issue with the President of the Republic, the chief of staff will be changed.” General de Villiers reacted in a Facebook post this week, saying he could resign.
His open disagreement with Macron was untypical of French military officials, who are historically silent on government policy. The French army is nicknamed “la grande muette” — “the great and silent” — because of that tradition.
But Macron has come under fire over the cuts from other parties, too, including members of his own party. The chairman of the parliamentary committee on defense, Jean-Jacques Bridey, who is also a Macron ally, said last week that he regretted the proposed cuts “while our men risk their lives every day.” Alexis Corbière, a leftwing member of the National Assembly, also warned that consequences of austerity on the French army would be “intolerable.”