The top French general resigned Tuesday following a clash with President Emmanuel Macron over proposed cuts to the defense budget that General Pierre de Villiers said would no longer “guarantee the robust defense force” needed to protect France.
“In the current circumstances I see myself as 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,” he said.
The move wasn’t unexpected and followed days of public back-and-forth between the two men—unprecedented in French politics. At issue is the plan announced last week by Macron to cut the equivalent of $980 million to the defense budget for 2017. It was needed, the government said, to meet the European Union’s requirement that its members states maintain their budget deficit at 3 percent of gross domestic product. Most of the cuts were directed at military equipment.
“I know when I am being had,” de Villiers reportedly told a parliamentary panel in off-the-record remarks that were leaked to the media, though Le Monde reported the general also used much stronger language to describe the cuts.
De Villiers, who became chief of defense staff in 2014 and whose tenure was extended by Macron last month, then reiterated those sentiments in a Facebook post. Although the post did not name Macron, the public expression of criticism—“Watch out for blind trust ... Because no one is without shortcomings, no one deserves to be blindly followed.”— was seen as highly unusual in a society where the military is highly regarded but known for being silent.