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World

I'm Your Boss': French Military Chief Quits in Macron Spat

Gen. Pierre De Villiers submitted his resignation to Macron at a security council meeting Wednesday

In this July 14, 2017 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, (L), and Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Pierre de Villiers, (R), drive down the Champs Elysees avenue during Bastille Day parade in Paris, photo: AP/Markus Schreiber, File
4 weeks ago

PARIS – Let there be no doubt who is in charge of France.

President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that he will brook little dissent from subordinates in a standoff that climaxed Wednesday when the disgruntled French military chief quit over budget cuts — and was quickly replaced by a general seen as more “Macron-friendly.”

The unusual upheaval rattled the French military and deepened warnings about Macron’s authoritarian tendencies. It could also foreshadow similar challenges for Macron as he tries to reduce the deficit and government spending and shake up the stagnant economy.

Gen. Pierre De Villiers submitted his resignation to Macron at a security council meeting Wednesday, saying in a letter that he could no longer guarantee enough resources to ensure that French forces can meet growing threats.

Macron replaced him with Gen. François Lecointre, a career military officer, as the new chief of staff of the armed forces, replacing Gen. Pierre de Villiers.

Lecointre served in Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s, in Rwanda in the 1990s and recently led the EU military training mission in Mali to help fight Islamic extremists, according to the government. The government spokesman called him well-suited for Macrons’ reform-focused strategy.

Macron’s office sought to play down tensions over de Villiers departure, even as French defense commentators described their dispute as a serious crisis.

While Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025 as part of France’s commitments to NATO, his budget minister last week announced a reduction of 870 million euros in military spending this year as part of an overall expense squeeze.

De Villiers lashed out at the spending curbs during a closed-door parliamentary commission meeting, according to leaked reports.

Without naming him directly, Macron upbraided de Villiers, saying to military officials: “It is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere. I made commitments (to budget cuts). I am your boss.”

The tension was visible between the men — in charge of France’s nuclear arsenal and thousands of troops at home and in international operations abroad — rode side-by-side in a military parade Friday to mark Bastille Day watched by visiting President Donald Trump.

Macron’s own behavior has elicited criticism, notably by those who fear he is growing power-hungry since overwhelmingly winning election in May and seeing his new centrist party dominate last month’s parliamentary elections.

De Villiers issued an appeal on Facebook saying “Watch out for blind trust … Because no one is without shortcomings, no one deserves to be blindly followed.”

De Villiers, head of the military since 2014, has spoken out in the past to defend budgets and insisted that it was his “duty” to express his concerns about resources amid the sustained threat of extremist attacks.

“I have always taken care … to maintain a military model that guarantees the coherence between the threats that weigh on France and Europe, the missions of our armies that don’t stop growing, and the necessary budget means to fulfill them,” he said in his resignation statement.

“I no longer consider myself in a position to ensure the durability of the military model that I believe in, to guarantee the protection of France and the French,” he said.

Macron appears unbowed, attributing tensions to fear of the change he is trying to embody.

Speaking to lawmakers from his Republic on the Move! party Tuesday night, he laughed off accusations that he’s issuing “Jupiter-like” orders, referring to the Roman god of gods.

“There will be difficult debates. They will be budgetary,” he warned them, in remarks broadcast on French media. “We will have to negotiate between two solutions and choose the lesser evil.”

ANGELA CHARLTON

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