British Military Partnership with France could be harmed by French Defence cuts

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French defence cuts ‘could harm British military partnership’

By Henry Samuel, in Paris, and Damien McElroy
7:50PM GMT 26 Mar 2013

Patricia Adam, the Socialist president of the National Assembly’s defence committee, warned that proposed cuts by the budget ministry would see France’s already historically low defence budget cut by a total of €30 billion (£25 billion) by 2020. She said those cuts could see its role in a crucial partnership with Britain fatally weakened.

“We are in constant discussions with the British about what we can share in defence terms, but you can only share what you have, not what you don’t have,” she said.

Since the Lancaster House defence cooperation treaties of 2010, Britain and France have joined forces to counter Islamists in Mali and to topple Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Cooperation between the two now ranges from nuclear missile testing, to next generation unmanned drone aircraft and cyber security.

France’s Socialist government is battling to reduce state spending by €60  billion over President Francois Hollande’s five-year term and has just told ministries to save an extra €5 billion in 2014.

The defence ministry has seen its annual budget fall from about 2.5 per cent of economic output after the Cold War to 1.56 per cent of GDP, about €31 billion, in 2012.

The French budget ministry has now called for an even more draconian cut, which will “kill the defence ministry,” said Miss Adam, a member of the parliamentary working group on UK-French defence cooperation.

France’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle

“By 2015, if we follow this trajectory, all that will be left will be national security, special forces and the nuclear deterrent. All conventional forces will have disappeared,” she told Le Monde.

“Plan Z”, as it has been code-named, would lead to 50,000 defence ministry job losses in 2015 — 100,000 by 2020 — and half of the total number of troops and combat aircraft.

A senior French defence official told The Daily Telegraph that while the specific aims of the Lancaster House treaties’ would not be in jeopardy, a series of joint ventures with Britain would be in grave danger of collapsing.

“There would no doubt be a drop in French orders for Airbus A400M military transport planes, which would put into question the financial equilibrium of the entire programme, including for the British,” he warned.

The official said new missiles being developed by the Franco-British arms concern, MBDA, were facing the axe, something that would dismay Whitehall.

“Any drop in means in Britain and France will quite simply weaken the alliance between Britain and France; Europe’s defence motor will be weakened,” he said.

There is growing disquiet on the British side of the Channel over French capabilities, with experts resigned to seeing Paris make “tough choices”, such as over the operation in Mali.

“Cuts of a large scale will make it more difficult for the French army to mount expeditions or undertake enduring tasks,” said Brig Ben Barry, a military expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. “Planners will have some difficult choices between the garrisons France maintains overseas and the number of army brigades.”

The future of France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, could also be in doubt, he added, putting at risk joint sea operations.

An alternative “Plan Y” would limit the cuts to €15 billion by 2020. Jean-Louis Carrere, the Socialist president of the Senate’s foreign affairs and defence committee, said: “I would ask François Hollande not to choose Y or Z, but to remain at 1.5 per cent GDP. If we want to remain one of the big five in the UN Security Council, let us not drop our guard.”

He has the support of many Right-wingers. François Fillon, the former Prime Minister, said this month: “It is better to sacrifice campaign promises that to sacrifice our defence. It’s called national interest.”

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