Gen. Francois Lecointre, a career military officer, has been nominated France’s military chief, after his predecessor quit Wednesday in a dispute with President Emmanuel Macron over budget cuts in a new challenge to Macron’s administration and his economic reforms. French government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters that Macron has nominated Lecointre as the new chief of staff of the armed forces, replacing Gen. Pierre de Villiers.
Locointre served in Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s and recently led the EU military training mission in Mali to help fight Islamic extremists. Macron’s office sought to play down tensions over de Villiers departure, even as French defense commentators described their public dispute as a serious crisis.
De Villiers’ office said the general submitted his resignation to Macron at a security council meeting Wednesday and the president accepted. Macron’s office did not immediately comment. De Villiers lashed out at new spending curbs during a closed-door parliamentary commission meeting last week, according to leaked reports.
The dispute escalated over the past week, with de Villiers issuing an appeal on Facebook saying ”Watch out for blind trust… Because no one is without shortcomings, no one deserves to be blindly followed.” Without naming him directly, Macron then publicly upbraided de Villiers to military officials, saying, ”it is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere. I made commitments (to budget cuts). I am your boss.”
Macron’s own behavior has elicited criticism, notably by those who accuse him of authoritarian tendencies after he overwhelmingly won election in May and saw his new centrist party dominate last month’s parliamentary elections. The resignation foreshadows the battles Macron will likely face as he tries to reduce the deficit and government spending and boost the stagnant economy. While Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2025 as part of France’s commitments to NATO, his budget minister last week announced limits on this year’s military expenses as part of an overall spending squeeze.
De Villiers, head of the military since 2014, insisted that it was his ”duty” to express his concerns about military resources amid the sustained threat of extremist attacks. ”I have always taken care … to maintain a military model that guarantees the coherence between the threats that weigh on France and Europe, the missions of our armies that don’t stop growing, and the necessary budget means to fulfill them,” he said his resignation statement. ”I no longer consider myself in a position to ensure the durability of the military model that I believe in, to guarantee the protection of France and the French,” he said.