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European Union/military programming

Published on November 27, 2013
Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence, to the daily newspaper Le Figaro (excerpts)

Paris, November 26, 2013

“France has, and will retain, Europe’s leading armed forces”



Q. – 34,000 posts in the armed forces are going to be cut between now and 2019. Isn’t this going too far?

THE MINISTER – France has, and will retain in 2020, Europe’s leading armed forces, including in terms of numbers. In 2019, we’ll have 187,000 service personnel (out of a total of 242,000 defence staff), whereas Britain will have only 145,000 and the German armed forces also fewer. Those service personnel will be equipped and trained to face up to tomorrow’s challenges. Funding for operational training will increase by more than 4% a year. These are the sinews of war. I saw it when I went to Mali, to the Ametettai valley, shortly after the fierce fighting there. Our soldiers, whose courage and fitness are exceptional, were also equipped in such a way as to be coordinated with the UAVs and Rafales supporting them.

Those are the armed forces of tomorrow: the soldiers’ capabilities, their physical courage, but also their operational training and technological capacity. Good joint-service organization is essential. To achieve this, what adjustments should we proceed with? That’s the question we must ask, rather than saying: let’s keep so-and-so many troops and then see what we can do. I wanted a coherent approach.


Q. – What are you expecting from December’s European Council meeting on defense?

THE MINISTER – France’s goal is to achieve concrete progress. I’m optimistic. In the operational sphere, we’re working to implement a common maritime security strategy. It entails major challenges. Firstly, to continue Europe’s action off the Horn of Africa and in particular the future of the Atalanta mission, which is a great success of European cooperation. In the Mediterranean, we must deal with the problem of people trafficking, with illegal immigration rings and the tragedies they cause but also the risk of terrorist infiltration which they entail.

With regard to military capabilities, I’ll propose the creation of a European club of American Reaper UAV users. It could be a force for negotiation with the United States for the Europeanization of its UAVs, so that they can fly in Europe and carry European sensors. And on France’s initiative, we’re taking steps aimed at a European solution for the next generation of surveillance UAVs. In the industrial sphere, we’re working on a regime of tax incentives for projects conducted through cooperation. It’s not right for projects conducted in NATO to be exempted from VAT, when those conducted through European cooperation are taxed.


Q. – France is the first European state to create legislation on cyber defense. What are the challenges?

THE MINISTER – France is indeed taking the lead. I’ve taken the decision to make cyber defence a national priority, because a threat exists to the state’s decision-making apparatus and to vital equipment and infrastructure. We must create the legal means to act and react, by attacking if necessary. It’s a first. Bodies of vital interest to the nation will be obliged to protect themselves and declare incidents to the state. Those measures have led to a cyber command chain linked to the operational planning and command centre. We’re going to recruit at least 400 experts on cyber threats. (…)


Q. – What are the key points of the 2014-2019 military estimates act?

THE MINISTER – Military programming is balanced, ambitious and thorough. France must rise to the challenge of tomorrow’s threats and have armed forces capable of facing up to them. With this military estimates act, I repeat, France will remain a leader in Europe. The armed forces will continue to fulfil the three major missions of protecting the country, nuclear deterrence and foreign intervention. In the face of the new threats, this military estimates act incorporates significant changes in the intelligence sphere and emphasizes special forces and cyber defence. Our shortcomings in tactical transport and air-to-air refuelling will also be remedied. Finally, the act enables us to continue all the major industrial programmes already started. (…)./.

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