France military eyes 2014 cuts, far-right seeks to benefit

PARIS Thu Oct 3, 2013 8:21am EDT

Soldiers of the French infantry on armoured army vehicles descend the Champs Elysees during the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris July 14, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Soldiers of the French infantry on armoured army vehicles descend the Champs Elysees during the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris July 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's military will cut about 7,500 jobs next year, a defense ministry source said on Thursday, detailing government belt-tightening plans that the far-right hopes will deliver it votes at municipal elections in 2014.

The cuts come as tensions rise within Socialist President Francois Hollande's 17-month-old coalition, whose poll ratings have fallen to 23 percent due to dissatisfaction about the economy and jobs.

The defense ministry said in April that 34,000 jobs would likely be cut over the coming six years, but its overall budget would remain largely static, steering clear of drastic spending cuts after military officials and lawmakers said that would reduce France's ability to counter global security threats.

"Given the six year objectives, (the cut) should be around 7,000 to 7,500 military and civilian personnel in 2014," the source said on condition of anonymity, ahead of a news conference by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

A handful of bases will be closed or restructured, including an 800-man regiment in the town of Orange in the Vaucluse department, where support for the anti-immigrant, anti-European Union National Front is strong, the source said.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a National Front member of parliament for Vaucluse, said the cuts would hurt France's defenses and local economies in areas like hers.

"I can only worry about the immediate economic impact in a region that has already been heavily hit by unemployment and economic difficulties," she said, reacting to media reports about the cuts.

"The governments of the right and the left have preferred to sell off our military know-how and lose our diplomatic independence by making small short-term savings. That will cost France's sovereignty dearly in the coming years," she said.

France's military employs some 228,000 personnel today. A further 165,000 individuals are employed by the defence industry, not including sub-contractors.

The government plans 15 billion euros ($20 billion) in savings next year and 3 billion extra revenues from higher taxes and fighting tax evasion to reduce the budget deficit.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan and Robin Pomeroy)

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