France commits to boosting defense spending by 35 percent over six years

PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to increase defense spending by more than a third between 2017 and 2025 with the aim of meeting a NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on the sector.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Alb'Oru cultural centre in Bastia, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Presenting the multi-year military spending plan on Thursday, the Armed Forces Ministry said its budget would increase by 1.8 percent to 34.2 billion euros this year, in line with commitments already set out by President Emmanuel Macron.

The annual increase is forecast to hold steady at 1.7 percent between 2019 and 2022, before jumping by 3.0 percent in 2023, the year after Macron’s current presidential mandate ends.

By then, the defense budget is expected to stand at 44 billion euros, 35.8 percent higher than last year’s level.

In substance, the defense spending plan is built around greater investment in equipment and training to combat domestic and international threats from terrorism, while sustaining a powerful land, sea and air capability.

“I want a strong France, in charge of its own destiny, protective of its citizens and its interests,” Macron said last month in a new year’s address to the military.

“For that, we need a full defense capability, a modern, powerful force that is responsive and looks to the future.”

The promise to raise spending comes six months after France’s armed forces chief resigned following a dispute with Macron over budget cuts, a fracas that was partly a test of wills between the president and Pierre de Villiers.

Macron said at the time that the cuts - an 850 million euro reduction in defense spending - had to be made in order to get the public deficit below the EU target of 3 percent of gross domestic product. That goal now looks set to be achieved.

While Macron’s commitment to meeting NATO’s 2-percent target will be cheered at NATO headquarters and in Washington, it remains unclear whether other major contributors in Europe will step up to the same extent.

The coalition agreement reached on Wednesday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats made no explicit commitments on meeting the NATO-agreed target.

Reporting by Sophie Louet; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Alison Williams