Emmanuel Macron has sent us his answers to the five questions we posed to all 11 candidates in the French presidential election concerning their position with regards to the army and the weapons industry. His remarks have been slightly shortened so that they fit the format we attributed to all the candidates.
1) In a difficult budgetary context, how much effort should be put into the defence budget?
I am very conscious that from a budgetary point of view our armies can no longer wait: the renovation of our deterrent force, the modernisation of our conventional military means, the need to fill certain critical capacity gaps, all mean that a particularly strong financial effort is indispensable. That’s why I plan to increase our defence effort by raising the defence budget to 2% of GDP by 2025. This is a very ambitious goal: if we look at current forecasts for GDP growth over the next few years, it means the defence budget will amount to more than €50bn in 2025, excluding pensions and foreign operations, against €32bn in 2017. By 2022 this will correspond to a budget increase of nearly €10bn. This effort will be part of our long-term planning. We need to take into account the profound changes in our strategic environment and the revised forecasts for our armed forces’ commitments. So, after the election, I will ask for a new White Paper on defence and national security which will define the broad terms of our defence planning for the next 15 years. This White Paper will be handed to me by December at the latest so that from the beginning of 2018 we can commit to the drafting of a new military programme law for 2019-2025.
2) Is it the role of the military to undertake operations such as Sentinelle (deployed within France)?
We must salute the immense professionalism and responsiveness of our soldiers, who have once again demonstrated their adaptability and level of commitment since Sentinelle was launched in January 2015. The future of Sentinelle will be adapted according to the assessment of the terrorist threat on our territory. We must avoid being dogmatic and be guided by a great deal of pragmatism. Our forces should not be trapped in a sort of routine that would not only inevitably weaken their operational effectiveness but that, as professional soldiers, they would not appreciate.
3) Do you think the Army is sufficiently well equipped?
The Army, like our other armies, suffers from ageing materiels and reduced capacities that are no longer acceptable. In this respect, the next military programme law must make it possible to speed up the rate of replacement of our oldest materiels. This will include speeding up programmes such as Scorpion for light armoured vehicles, and joint helicopters. It will also be necessary to commit to the programmes for the next generation of our current major materiels and each time to examine the possibilities of cooperation with our European partners. I’m thinking in particular of the future battle tank, the successor of the Leclerc, where Franco-German cooperation would be fully justified. But aside from the major materiels I have just mentioned, my first thoughts are for the men and women of our defence forces. We have a duty to guarantee that they enjoy conditions in their professional and personal lives that are commensurate to their commitment. I will therefore pay particular attention that the infrastructures – notably accommodation -, the materiels and equipment are modernised and adapted to their mission. We will have to ensure access to dynamic progression up the career ladder, emphasise training and the professional transition to civilian life, provide support for families. I’m also aiming for an Army of 77,000 personnel.
4) How can we grow our defence industrial base? Do you think that the examples set by MBDA and Nexter should be followed?
French industry has world champions and, at the same time, a network of small and medium enterprises that are particularly dynamic. The State will have to be an actor in this ecosystem, as a partner to a robust and sustainable defence economy. I shall therefore assume a proactive industrial policy. The first focus of my policy will be on innovation. So, after the efforts over the last five years I will further increase funding, raising the upstream research budget progressively to €1bn annually, against €730m today, a rise of more than 30%. The State should also support innovation, notably through an investment fund that would allow the Ministry of Defence to hold shares in certain strategic SMEs. The provisions of the SME Pact launched in 2012 will be continued, with a focus on territorial support and the relationship between SMEs and major groups.
The defence re-industrialisation policy is also an axis that I want to encourage to secure our supply line. I want to accelerate this policy because it guarantees our strategic autonomy by limiting our dependency on third countries, in particular those like the United States which don’t hesitate to use their equipment as a means of pressure.
Moreover, the recent period has been rich in defence sector industrial consolidations, with moves the likes of which we had not seen since the early 2000s: you mention KNDS in the land sector, OneMBDA for missiles. Industrial consolidation is a major challenge for the development of our companies and much remains to be done, especially at European level. The third axis of this proactive industrial policy is a coordinated and dynamic defence exports policy. I will continue to develop a policy that was launched recently and which should be welcomed. In order to keep up the momentum it will of course be necessary to continue to apply the method of project teams made up of industrial and military officials and DGA engineers; this is the hallmark of “Team France”. But we must also take note of the change in scale of this activity where cooperation between States is concerned. Our partners increasingly want France to accompany them in the implementation of industrial projects: it can be in the form of training, operational cooperation, assistance to project owners or help in selecting projects submitted in answer to calls to tender.
5) If you become President of the Republic in 2017 what will your three defence priorities be?
Europe and France are confronting a new world where threats are both more numerous and dangerous. In this context, I note that our army is a recognised military power on the international scene. However, used at maximum capacity as they are, our armies do not have enough time to rest or train, raising fears of a gradual deterioration of their security, efficiency and recruitment. Equally worrying, their equipment is deteriorating and our military spending, relative to the number of inhabitants, is stagnating, even as conflicts intensify and many countries are rearming. In this context, the objective of my defence policy will be to ensure the sovereignty of France and to protect the French: this is the primary mission of the State. Our country must have at its disposal the defence and security means necessary to its sovereignty and to protect its citizens. This requires giving more financial and human resources to our national defence so that it can carry out more difficult and more numerous missions. My first objective will therefore be to give our armed forces the means to ensure France’s strategic sovereignty. There is no price for this security and sovereignty but there is a cost. We have to assume it. That is why we are proposing an increase in the defence budget to 2% of GDP by 2025.
The second objective will be to develop concrete initiatives to really develop Defence Europe. Thus, we will strengthen the coordination of our operations with our European allies with a permanent European Headquarters to ensure planning and monitoring of operations, in connection with national and NATO command centres. We will also create a European Security Council, composed of military officials, diplomats and intelligence experts, to advise European decision-makers. We will activate the “battle groups”: these multinational forces were set up more than 10 years ago but have never been deployed on the ground. This will allow for joint European interventions in the field, on foreign theatres of operation. Finally, we will support the creation of a European Defence Fund to finance joint programmes such as a European RPAS [remotely piloted air system]. A joint effort is key if we mean to continue to innovate in the face of American or Chinese giants and to confront the rising costs of armaments programmes.
My third objective will be to reinforce the link between the armed forces and the nation in a period marked by instability abroad but also by the distrust shown by part of the population towards our institutions. That is why we will revitalise the national guard and the operational reserve: civil society must be aware of the defence and security challenges facing our country today. We will also create a one-month universal national service. This is not to restore an old-fashioned military service: our military and security forces are now professional, and conscription is no longer relevant. On the other hand, we are convinced that it is beneficial for young French people to experience a personal and collective experience of citizenship through issues of general interest, including national defence. In spite of very different backgrounds, it is necessary to give them the possibility of discovering that there are more things that bring them together than there are pulling them apart.