The French defence budget will continue to grow, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told attendees of the Summer Defence University in Paris on 6 September, because “we have changed epoch. This is the end of being carefree. We have moved onto other ground.” And he said that France “must invest massively to ensure the security” of its citizens, so that it would not only meet the NATO recommended defence spending of 2% of GDP (it currently stands at 1.8%), a figure he said he thought “is attainable,” but may “perhaps [be] even more.” He explained that “we don’t have the choice because the threat is there” and “has never been higher.”
Summer Defence University
In a rare moment of intimacy, Valls admitted that the one thing that keeps him awake at night is the “considerable, considerable, considerable challenge” posed by Islamic radicalisation of French youngsters. He warned that “it is extremely likely that the type of attack that we suffered this summer will be reproduced or that someone will attempt to do so,” because “the situation of (Daesh) in Iraq and in Syria leads us to believe that these are the types of actions that will be chosen, particularly if the coalition attacks progressively destroy the terrorist organisation’s logistical, technical and human apparatus.”
The prime minister said that France is “undergoing a deep change in our security with a major continuum between interior and exterior security, between the DGSE, DGSI [direction générale de la securité extérieure, the military foreign intelligence agency and direction générale de la securité intérieure, the internal security agency], between the ministry of defence and the ministry of the interior. There is a change.”
This means that “we must continue to engage the means (both human and financial),” and, he added that these “will increase.”
Speaking in a remarkably frank and informal manner at a round-table discussion, he was the first French prime minister to accept an invitation to attend the annual, two-day Summer Defence University which is a fixture in the French defence sector’s calendar.
FOB learned that Valls had given carte blanche to the three other members of the round table who were asking the questions : General Jean-Paul Palomeros, former NATO SACT (supreme allied commander transformation); Olivier Darrasson, founder and president of CEIS (which organises the Summer Defence Universities); and Alexis Bautzmann, president of the Aréion publishing group.
And so the questions concerning defence and security were wide-ranging, moving from France to NATO and Europe. Valls clearly believes that Europe must be responsible for its own defence even if he concedes that “we don’t have the same understanding of the risks in Eastern Europe and in Southern Europe, between the founding members [of the European Union] and the new members.” He explained that even if “NATO remains the crucible of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, it’s an indispensable tool for interoperability, but I am convinced that Europe’s destiny takes the path of a European defence policy. I even believe it is at the heart of its destiny.”
In answer to a question about his priorities in the remaining months of the government he leads before next year’s French presidential election, he said that he had been profoundly changed by the repeated terrorist attacks in France and so his absolue priority was “the protection of French citizens, and that will also be the case for the next government.”