Senators call for new MPL by 2018

A Sentinelle patrol at the foot of the Eiffel Tower (Photo credit: SGT Jean-Baptiste T/armée de Terre)

France’s defence budget needs an additional €2bn a year for five years, according to a bipartisan report published this morning by Senators Jean-Pierre Raffarin (Les Républicains) and Daniel Reinier (PS) of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee. And the two senators propose that the best way to reach this objective is through the “fast” adoption of “a new military programme law” for 2018-2023.

According to the senators, the urgency of the situation implies that this law could be introduced without the need for a new White Paper that would prove long and tedious to write and instead concentrate on a “strategic review” before moving to the military programme law (MPL) stage this autumn. A programme that is highly reminiscent of the one described by President Emmanuel Macron’s military adviser during the campaign, General Jean-Paul Palomeros, reported by FOB here.

The goal of this future MPL will be to “ensure the catching-up necessary for conventional forces before addressing the need for deterrence.” In order to avoid any risk of a capability breakdown, this report calls for an additional €2bn per year in order by 2022 to reach the 2% GDP threshold recommended by NATO. In other words, a budget of €42.5bn three years earlier than the calendar defended by Macron during his campaign.

In order to “make the future MPL more reliable” and to avoid a budgetary deadlock, the two senators call for a “contract between the Nation and its army” so that all the actors concerned optimise their own resources for the benefit of the armies. In addition to ensuring the credibility of the defence budget and injecting the necessary political impetus, Raffarin and Reinier insist that France must preserve its national defence industrial and technological base which “represents at least €21bn in annual turnover, at least 165,000 direct and indirect jobs (…), and more than 1,000 businesses.”

Although it is one of the few sectors with a very positive balance of trade, the defence industry is nevertheless “fragile”, particularly in highly specialised sectors such as satellite observation or cybersecurity. France must therefore make the necessary budgetary effort to avoid an erosion of its technological lead and respond to the emergence of “breakthrough” technologies. This industrial problem is closely linked to upstream studies, for which it will be necessary to “change scale” and invest an average €1bn per year instead of the €730M provided annually by the 2014-2019 MPL.

But how can the machine be launched albeit whilst cutting costs, at a time when the Ministry of Finance, by freezing €2.7bn on the 2017 budget, is trying to impose its tempo on the Minister of the Armed Forces, Sylvie Goulard? Concerning the industrial aspect, the answer lies, according to the two senators, in a single word: cooperation. Supported by a Europhile Minister of the Armed Forces, France cannot ignore the emergence of European levers that could alleviate the financial burden, particularly in terms of R&D. These include the European Defence Fund, which will have an annual budget of €500M from 2020 onwards, and in which France must “play a major role”. Without forgetting to consolidate pre-existing industrial alliances which, like the formation of the Franco-German KNDS group, must receive major political and legislative backing. Finally, new axes of cooperation at European level, notably in the sector of remotely piloted air systems (RPASs), must be developed.

This report, unanimously adopted by the Senate Committee, has already received the support of the new tenant of the Hotel de Brienne (where the minister has her office in central Paris). She “confirms” the “importance of the increase in the resources devoted by the Nation to the protection of France and the French in the context of increased threats,” adding that discussions with Senators Raffarin and Reinier, as well as with the parliamentarians of the Senate and the future National Assembly, will continue on “this major issue for our country.