François Lecointre named as new chief of France armed forces

STEPHANE MAHE  AFP  Getty Images

The row has provoked a debate about whether Macron had humiliated his military chief or whether he had no choice but to exert his authority just two months into his presidency.

After his unbent take, many were angry with the president for publically aspersing the military chief.

French military chief Gen. Pierre de Villiers resigned Wednesday after a public clash with President Emmanuel Macron over defense funding.

While that is a relatively small part of the military's budget of €32 billion, it comes after several years of increasing demands on the armed forces, especially in the fight against terrorism.

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De Villiers, 61, is the first military chief to stand down in the history of the Fifth Republic, established in 1958.

Mr. Macron quickly announced that Gen. François Lecointre, who heads Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's defense cabinet, will replace Gen.de Villiers. But he also said that the General had his "full trust" as long as he "knows the chain of command and how it works".

The President also warned the chief in a media interview, saying, "If the [military] chief of staff has an issue with the President of the Republique, the chief of staff will be changed".

In an editorial to be published in Thursday's Le Monde newspaper, Gen Desportes accused Mr Macron of "juvenile authoritarianism" and said that there was a sense of "betrayal" in the armed forces. He promised a big increase in the defence budget over the next eight years.

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Seen as one of the finest officers of his generation, de Villiers's departure triggered howls of indignation from the opposition.

"It's clear today that the executive can not bear a situation where its top public servants have a view of things that is different from the political view put together by the Elysee", Gen Vincent Desportes, former head of France's top main military school, said. President Macron wants to get the overall French budget deficit below a European Union cap of 3% of national income for 2017. Furthermore, he has pledged to lift the defence budget from 1.77% of GDP to Nato's target of 2% by 2025.

De Villiers had repeatedly complained that the military was overstretched and said he saw it as his duty to inform politicians.

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