France to boost defence spending in 'unprecedented' move to meet Nato commitments
France has unveiled plans to boost defence spending by more than a third between 2017 and 2025 in an “unprecedented effort” to meet Nato commitments and modernise its army and nuclear deterrent. Presenting the multi-year military spending plan, the defence ministry said it would pump €295 billion (£260bn) into bolstering its armed forces between 2019 and 2025, after already raising the budget by 1.8 per cent to €34.3bn this year. The annual increase is forecast to remain at 1.7 per cent between 2019 and 2022 to reach €44 billion that year, before jumping by three per cent in 2023 - conveniently, detractors will say, the year after President Emmanuel Macron's five-year term ends. The aim is to meet France’s commitment to spend two per cent of gross domestic product on defence. "I want a strong France, in charge of its own destiny, protective of its citizens and its interests," Mr Macron said last month in a new year's address to the military. "For that, we need a full defence capability, a modern, powerful force that is responsive and looks to the future," he said, calling the spending rise an "unprecedented budgetary effort". France is to boost defence spending by a third between 2019 and 2025 Credit: CLAUDE PARIS/AP European Nato members have come under pressure from President Donald Trump to shoulder more defence costs to relieve the burden on the United States, which currently accounts for about 70 per cent of combined Nato defence spending. The spending increase will place France roughly on a par with the UK, which has already met, and in recent cases surpassed, its two per cent spending pledge. The boost, which French daily Le Monde called “colossal”, comes six months after then chief of the defence staff, General Pierre de Villiers, resigned in a dispute with Mr Macron over cuts. Gen De Villiers, a highly respected figure, complained to parliament that the army was being "screwed", drawing a public rebuke from the French president, which prompted the general to resign. French President Emmanuel Macron and Chief of the Defence Staff French Army General Pierre de Villiers attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris Credit: CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters His complaint followed a drop in spending last year of €850 million, a temporary fall the government said was necessary for France to meet its EU budget deficit target of three per cent of GDP. After cutting 60,000 posts between 2005 and 2015, the defence ministry said it will create 6,000 new ones by 2025, half of these by 2023, with an emphasis on cyber security and intelligence. France, which has thousands of troops overseas, will boost spending on equipment, from bullet-proof vests to combat uniforms as well as maintenance and infrastructure. There will be a 34 per cent rise in spending on "modernising weaponry" including new Scorpion armoured vehicles, four Barracuda attack submarines and three multi-mission frigates, as well as a new fleet of Griffon multi-role armoured vehicles. The plan also provides new spy satellites, light surveillance planes, Rafale fighter jets and armed drones, as well as new refuelling planes. France's nuclear deterrent will receive €37 billion by 2025, with work started on a third generation nuclear submarine programme and new airborne nuclear missiles. French army bases will be "strengthened" around the world with the aim of training 30,000 local military personnel per year, up from the current 20,000. Finally, some €17 billion will be earmarked for innovation to maintain "future operational superiority", including research into a successor to the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, which will retire by 2040. While the spending rise will be cheered at Nato headquarters and Washington, Gen de Villiers intimated that the final phase of the plan after 2023 may never materialise, as it depends on France meeting its growth forecasts. “We are on a trajectory of €1.7 billion (per year) until 2022 and then a slope of €3 billion (per year) from 2023. Naturally, we have experience in the matter, one needs to remain vigilant,” he told France 3. It is unclear whether France’s spending rise will be echoed by other EU partners, notably Germany whose new coalition government made no explicit commitments on meeting the NATO-agreed target this week.