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French military chief present for July 14 parade despite budget cuts row

Alpha jets from the French Air Force Patrouille de France fly over the Champs-Elysees avenue during the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes Reuters

The commander-in-chief of the French defence forces, Pierre de Villiers, was at this morning’s Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Elysées despite an ongoing dispute over defense budget cuts.

President Emmanuel Macron rebuked the general on Thursday after the general hard complained in front of French lawmakers about proposed defence budget cuts for this year

“I am the head of state. The promises that I make in front of our citizens and the army will be kept,” Macron said, referring to promises he made after he was election to increase the defence budget to €50 million by 2025.

“In this respect, I do not need to be pressurized, or need anyone to comment or interpret my decisions.”

He added that the did not believe that such disputes should be aired in public and reminded the general the military’s “sense of duty”.

“He reminded the general of the collective discipline [of the defence forces],” the Minister for Defnece said.

The dispute follows the announcement on Tuesday evening that defence spending in 2017 would be cut by €850 million. However, President Macron also promised to increase spending next year by two billion to €34.2 billion and to keep his promise of increasing it to €50 billion, or two percent of public spending, by 2025.

In response, and in front of the parliament’s Defence Committee on Wednesday, de Villiers said that the army had already “given everything” and that the ongoing cuts were not tenable.

However, in a column in the French daily Le Figaro this morning, July 14,  he appeared to soften his position and called on the government to start providing the army with increased funding “from 2018 onwards” in a consistent manner.

The budget cuts for this year will take the form of a postponement, or even cancellation, of orders for new equipment.

The defence forces currently need refuelling plans, helicopters and tanks to renew aging stock.