The Way Ahead for French Defense? A French Parliamentary Report Raises Significant Questions


By Pierre Tran

Dateline Paris.

A scathing parliamentary report on the draft 2021 defense budget pointed up  an imbalance of political power, with the executive arm withholding information from the legislature, while enjoying an exclusive right to approve the bill virtually unchanged.

“Not only is the budgetary initiative a monopoly of the executive arm, but the capacity for members of parliament and senators to amend the text is doubly limited…” said the special report, drafted by parliamentarian François Cornut-Gentille, who sits on the finance committee of the lower house National Assembly.

Article 40 of the constitution and the parliamentary majority effectively prevented amendment of the bill, the 370-page report said.

The government showed a lack of willingness to open the debate and communicate to the public through parliament, the report said.

No prime minister has spoken to parliament on the draft budget since 1992.

“Your rapporteur is surprised by the propensity of the armed forces ministry to limit the publicity of answers to written questions, which defies all logic,” the report said.

There was lack of disclosure on the A400M transport plane and Tiger attack helicopter, with the information taking on a significance which was all but incomprehensible.

The wide-ranging report urged a thorough rethink, calling on the government to take a broader view of a strategic industrial and technology base rather than purely defense.

That strategic approach highlighted the sovereignty issue, with the report calling for a French rescue plan for Photonis and Souriau, small companies which have been put up for sale and attracted attention from acquisitive U.S. companies.

Photonis is a specialist in night vision, while Souriau builds plugs for cable network connectivity.

Meanwhile, the ministry has created a post of spokesperson, which has been published in the official journal. That senior press officer will have a basic salary of €90,781-€118,725 ($106,766-€139,639), depending on experience, plus a variable part of pay, Mammoth, a defense blog, reported Nov. 1.

That post sparked media interest as press relations with the office of the the armed forces minister, Florence Parly, have been strained, particularly over the coronavirus crisis.

The favored candidate was  Hervé Grandjean, Parly’s industrial adviser, afternoon daily Le Monde reported.

Budget Crisis

The parliamentary report gave a detailed financial account of major arms programs — noting there were gaps due to lack of information from the defense ministry — while raising a warning flag over the fiscal impact of the pandemic on the 2022 military budget.

A planned sale of 20 Rafale fighter jets to Greece has set off budgetary alarm bells.

France will order 12 Rafales from Dassault Aviation to replace that number of aircraft to be taken from the air force to supply Greece.

The remaining eight will be new aircraft.

The government will need to find more than €1 billion to fund that procurement for the French air force, as that had not been written into the multi-year military budget law.

That would be a good opportunity for the government to revise the budget law, Cornut-Gentille told Nov. 4 the Association des Journalistes de Defense, a press club, Challenges business magazine reported.

The defense budget was due to rise €1.7 billion in respectively 2021 and 2022, with the funding to rise €3 billion in respectively 2023, 2024 and 2025 under the 2019-25 military budget law.

But that planned increase was highly unlikely in the wake of the economic decline sparked by the pandemic.

“Steps of €3 billion per year is unprecedented, from any minister,” Cornut-Gentille said. There will be tough budgetary decisions and it will questionable whether that spending can be maintained.

The report called for a complete rethink of future spending.

The French commitment to spend two percent of gross domestic product on the military is clearly “obsolete,” the report said, quoting Françoise Dumas, chairwoman of the National Assembly defense committee.

A Damocles sword hangs over the services, the report said.

“Everyone should know that the defense spending in 2024 and 2025 is not defined in absolute terms but as a percentage of GDP (two percent),” the report said.

“In the present state of the French economy, that indicates that the services will see their funding fall, undoing the effort of previous years.”

On the lack of preparation for the COVID 19 crisis, the report pointed up the 2008 defense white paper referred to pandemic and epidemic respectively 15 and six times, while the 2013 white paper referred respectively seven times and twice.

The 2017 strategic review for defense and national security failed to refer to pandemic, and referred to epidemics twice.

Those official reports set the background for drafting the defense budget.

The photo of parliamentarian François Cornut-Gentille was taken from the following source: