PARIS Aug 2 France will cut nearly 34,000
military personnel under a proposed six-year defence budget to
be unveiled on Friday, as government belt-tightening and a
desire for more nimble forces alters the makeup of Europe's
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will present the 190
billion euro ($251 billion) budget in a cabinet meeting.
The defence ministry warned in April that its budget would
remain largely static in coming years when it outlined its
2014-19 priorities in a strategic blueprint that anticipated the
12 percent cut in staff.
The government wants to cut state spending by 60 billion
euros over its five-year term to meet deficit targets but
steered clear of drastic cuts to military spending after armed
forces officials and lawmakers said that would hamper France's
ability to react to global security threats.
Still, the military job cuts will bite at a time of rising
unemployment and dissatisfaction over Socialist President
Francois Hollande's inability to revive the sputtering economy.
Under the draft budget, the military will also slow the pace
at which it takes delivery of Rafale jets ordered from Dassault
Aviation, only taking 26 of the planes over the six
years, down from a normal pace of some 11 planes a year.
The move will delay promised payments of the planes, worth
roughly $120 million a piece, easing pressure on state coffers.
The government hopes foreign orders from India and elsewhere
will snap up some of the planes being rolled out by partly
state-owned Dassault, which has yet to sell a single of its
flagship Rafales abroad but says it has to produce at least 11 a
year to operate efficiently.
The proposed budget is slightly above the 179 billion euro
figure the April blueprint had indicated, after being boosted by
real estate sales and other one-off benefits.
It will be debated in the months ahead in parliament, where
the ruling Socialists have a slim majority, and is largely
expected to be voted into law by year-end.
The military, which has sustained repeated budget cuts in
recent years, is focused on overhauling the armed forces to
create a more mobile army still capable of operating in two or
three different theatres at the same time.
France's engagement in Mali this year, which drove back
Islamist rebels, has underscored the need for robust
intelligence resources and special forces.
For the next three years, the annual budget will be frozen
at 31.4 billion euros, the same level as 2013, with the
expectation that it will rise in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The six-year draft budget calls for the elimination of
23,500 posts, 16,000 of which are administrative positions. The
other 10,000 staff cuts were mandated under the previous budget.
France's military employs some 228,000 personnel today. A
further 165,000 individuals are employed by the defence
industry, not including sub-contractors.
($1 = 0.7557 euros)
(Additional reporting by Cyril Altymeyer; Writing by Alexandria
Sage; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Michael Roddy)