French President Emmanuel Macron reviews an honor guard upon his arrival on board the the Dixmude, an amphibious assault ship, docked in the French Navy base of Toulon, southern France, before delivering a speech to present his New Year's wishes to the French Army, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, Pool)

France's Macron pledges big increase in defense budget
Samuel Petrequin (Associated Press) - January 20, 2018 - 4:45am

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron will boost defense spending in the coming years to guarantee his country's domestic security and maintain French military engagement abroad, as he repeated his wishes for an increased European military cooperation on yesterday.

Addressing soldiers onboard the assault ship Dixmude off the naval base of Toulon, Macron promised to increase spending by 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion) this year to 34.2 billion ($42 billion) euros.

He also pledged to bring defense spending to 2 percent of GDP —from about 1.8 percent currently — by 2025, in a move aimed at "stopping the erosion of our military capacity."

Six months after a crisis over cuts in the military budget led to the appointment of a new chief of staff of the armed forces, Macron said the financial effort was "unprecedented."

Last summer, Gen. Pierre de Villiers submitted his resignation after a clash with Macron and was replaced by Gen. Francois Lecointre. De Villiers had resisted 850 million euros ($1 billion) in cuts to last year's budget.

Macron also confirmed his plan to restore a national service — one of his campaign promises — a measure that will be funded with a separate budget. The one-month conscription is expected to involve about 600,000 people every year, aged between 18 and 21.

The former banker added that France's nuclear arsenal will remain at the heart of France's dissuasive military strategy, and stressed the importance of maintaining the army's capacity to intervene "everywhere in the world."

Revealing that French soldiers had rescued 106 migrants off Libya coast earlier this week, Macron praised French troops for their involvement in current French overseas operations, including Sahel, Western Africa and Middle East.

"We have entered an era of great turbulence," Macron said. "With globalization, our country's interests are no longer limited to our territory. Sometimes, defending our territory consists in fighting terrorists thousands of kilometers away."

The budget for overseas operations will be gradually increased to reach 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in 2020, compared to 450 million ($551 million) last year.

Insisting on the need for better European cooperation aimed at developing a "strategic autonomy," Macron said Germany will be an essential partner alongside Britain. He insisted the alliance, including both EU members and non-member states, would not be in competition with NATO.

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