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New Year Greetings

Published on February 27, 2008
Speech by M. Hervé Morin, Minister of Defense, to the Armed Forces, (excerpts)

Illkirch-Graffenstaden, January 11, 2008


(…) France is more threatened than she was at the beginning of the 1990s. This changing context of a world in flux forces us to tailor our defence capability to the new situation, and this is the purpose of the White Paper on Defence and National Security, to be finalized in March.

There are also severe budgetary constraints: those of our nation, which has an unprecedented level of debt (€1,300 billion) and an annual budget deficit of around €40 billion, and those of the Ministry itself, with capital expenditure needs in 2009-2013 which, if no operational contracts are modified, are deemed 40% higher than the credit lines opened in 2003-2007, i.e. an extra €5 billion for the forces’ equipment. If you add the low structural level of French growth - I hope this is going to change - and the other ministries’ requirements, it’s easy to understand why the constraints are severe and compel us to act.

Consequently, only with major reforms will we be able to get some room for manoeuvre, maintain the overall coherence of our military capabilities, guarantee standards of activity and training, extend our forces’ ability to act and continue to improve Service conditions for personnel. I shall conduct these reforms for you, for our armed forces and for France, and above all do so with you.

What are these reforms?

- In the first place, the Ministry’s management will be improved so that decisions are more transparent and collective and everyone’s responsibilities are clarified. By being the first to reform, the central administration is going to set the example. We must abolish unnecessary duplication of services so as to be even more efficient.

- With this in mind, we shall bring central staffs and the major Ministry directorates together at Balard in Paris’ fifteenth arrondissement as soon as 2012, in a building worthy of modern armed forces. This makes a practical reality of the changes brought in by the Orders of May 2005 [which increase the coherence and efficiency of the Ministry and clarify the responsibilities of the Chief of the Defence Staff, Head of Defence Procurement and Administration Secretary-General] in order to achieve the necessary complementarity between the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Services Chiefs of Staff.

There must be a clear move towards greater jointery [US: "jointness”], because there are more and more joint land-air-sea operations, and a lot of common functions, particularly support functions, are by nature joint. (…)

- The defence estate will also be restructured: military bases will be fewer and larger, with the aim of bringing the three forces together, and global support services will be pooled regardless of the colour of the uniform. There will be only two criteria: the needs to safeguard operational capabilities and improve living conditions for defence personnel.

We’re going to identify "military community areas" ("bassins de vie militaire") which will facilitate families’ lives, their children’s education and employment of partners or spouses, at the same time as making possible a single support system and general administration for all the units. (…)

I pledge to do this: in the conduct of this reform, priority will be given to enhancing our operational capabilities and improving working and living conditions for military personnel. (…)

At the beginning of January it is more generally the tradition to extend New Year greetings, but I don’t think this is the job of a politician who is in a position of responsibility, is responsible for men and women: from me you expect commitments, not wishes, albeit sincere ones. And these commitments, I fully intend honouring, believe me.

- The first commitment: to maintain the defence effort. This commitment is President Sarkozy’s, it’s mine. In every case, I shall fight to maintain it and won’t accept anything else.

It’s because we’ll be implementing this rationalization that we’ll be entitled to ask the nation for the resources we need to be able to carry out the missions entrusted to us.

- The second commitment: our decision-making autonomy isn’t negotiable. France can’t delegate her power of assessment and decision-making to a key ally or major international organization. This requires, in particular, possession of genuine command and intelligence assets.

- The third commitment: ability to act. Our country must remain a credible power with a military system possessing all the major assets.

- Fourth commitment: all decisions will be taken with the concern to optimize our armed forces’ operational capabilities. The operational forces will be safeguarded.


2008 will also be a great year for Europe: the year of Defence Europe. (…)

The French European Union presidency, which will succeed the Slovenian presidency on 1 July, gives us the opportunity to strengthen Europe’s international credibility by making headway with European defence. (…)

I’m not supporting the building of Defence Europe out of personal conviction, but solely out of pragmatism: we need to think about our continent’s interests and particularly the goal of regional stability in the neighbourhood of the European Union, which has over 450 million inhabitants and a GDP accounting for a quarter of global production. When you’ve created common interests, you need to defend them together. (…)

Everything hangs together: Europe can define an external policy with influence in the world and impose its views on its partners only if it has the military resources to enforce it. We saw this clearly in the Balkans: the inadequacy of our military capabilities weakened our influence in terms of foreign policy. The reality is harsh: Europe’s weight also depends on its military weight, which isn’t measured by the number of Brussels committees, but in real capabilities. This is where we have to do something. 450 million inhabitants must be as able to influence the world’s destiny as 280 million inhabitants.

Our influence depends on a strong European defence. Chancellor Helmut Kohl made a very pertinent comment, back in 1983, at the time of the signing of the Solemn Declaration on the European Union: "If Europe too is intent on determining global policy, and if we want to avoid being at the mercy of other people’s policy, we have to combine all our strengths". Avoiding being at the mercy of the others’ policy, avoiding it being others who pull our strings, this is our objective. (…)./.

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