Macron enters into open war with France’s armed forces chief

French President Emmanuel Macron is in a very open conflict with the chief of the French armed forces, who may be forced to resign in what would be an unprecedented crisis.

Macron enters into open war with France’s armed forces chief
Macron waving and Pierre de Villiers looing stern. Photo: AFP

Macron has shown he is not afraid to enter into battle but he probably wasn't expecting that within a couple of months of him becoming head of state he would be at war with his own armed forces chief.

The conflict began last week when France’s budget minister Gerald Darmanin revealed details of how the French government will make spending cuts in order to get the country’s finances under control.

No ministry would be spared, not even the ministry of defence which would have to cope with making savings of €850 million, mainly on the cost of equipment.

The following day on July 12th, the furious chief of the French armed forces General Pierre de Villiers protested the cuts before the president’s council of defence and the parliament’s own defence commission.

The irate De Villiers, known for talking frankly, apparently used the phrase “I won’t let you fuck me like that” (Je ne me laisserai pas baiser comme ça).

While MPs may have applauded his stance, President Macron was clearly irked.

On the evening of July 13th, with US President Donald Trump in town, Macron paid a visit to the Ministry of Defence for the traditional homage to soldiers before the July 14th military parade.

“It is not dignified to hold certain debates in the public arena,” Macron told those present with  de Villiers clearly in mind.

Then in an authoritarian tone he told the military chiefs assembled at the ministry: “I am your boss”.

Telling them he will stick to his commitments to make cuts he said: “I don’t need pressure or commentary”.

At that point it looked like the general wouldn’t even accompany Macron for the traditional July 14th parade along the Champs-Elysées.

But in the end he took up his place alongside the president in their military vehicle, albeit with a face of thunder.

Two days later on July 16th the president rammed his message home.

In an interview with Journal du Dimanche Macron said: “If the [Armed Forces] chief of staff has an issue with the President of the Republique, then it is the chief of defence staff who will change his position.”

But De Villiers may jump first. He suggested in a Facebook post this week that he will make a decision this week.

If he were to resign in protest it would be an unprecedented move and provoke a major crisis for the French president.

But even if he were to stay it appears that Macron is heading for troubled waters, given that France's armed forces are involved in military operations in Mali, Iraq and Syria.

“Armies basically obey. So in substance the president was within his rights to restate his authority,” a former chief of the French armed forces Henri Bentégeat told Le Monde newspaper.

“But the way he did it will leave marks. You cannot publicly question a military leader like that in front of his subordinates,” said Bentégeat, who said that the head of the armed forces was “just doing his duty” by defending the budget for the military.

“When Macron attends the first ceremony for a soldier killed because of a lack of equipment, all the criticism will be directed at him,” said Bentégeant.


French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual

A French court on Thursday gave suspended jail terms to three soldiers convicted over the death by drowning of a trainee officer during an initiation ritual at the country's most prestigious military academy.

French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual
The three officers in the dock. Photo: AFP

Jallal Hami, 24, drowned overnight on October 29th, 2012, while crossing a swamp as part of an exercise meant to teach the Saint-Cyr officer school's traditions to new recruits.

A total of seven soldiers, including a general, were tried for manslaughter.

A court in Rennes, a city in France's western Brittany region near the Saint-Cyr academy, sentenced an army captain, a commanding officer and a soldier who has since left the military to suspended terms of between six and eight months.

Four other defendants, including the general who was in charge of training at Saint-Cyr at the time, were cleared of the charges.

Hami's brother Rachid, who had accused the second-year students behind the hazing ritual of running amok, reacted angrily to the verdict.

“You have betrayed my brother once again,” he said.

The victim's brother Rachid Hami, speaking outside the court. Photo: AFP

On the night of Hami's death, new recruits were told to swim across a swamp for 43 metres, weighed down by their helmets in 9C water.

The exercise was meant to simulate a beach landing.

To the strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries – famously used in the war movie Apocalypse Now – the recruits jumped into the cold water. Several quickly struggled and went under, gasping for air and clutching at others.

Organisers threw them lifebelts to help them out but it was too late for Jallal Hami, who was reported missing.

Firefighters, alerted an hour later, found his body at 2:35 am near the bank of the swamp.

During the trial the state prosecutor blasted the “madness” of an initiation ritual fuelled by “uncontrolled testosterone” and asked the court to give six of the defendants suspended terms of up to two years.

The prosecutor had however called for General Francis Chanson's acquittal.

Chanson's lawyer William Pineau had said that while the events were “tragic”, his client could not be held criminally responsible “because he did not know what really went on on the ground”.

Jallal Hami came to France in 1992 with his mother and brothers to escape Algeria's civil war.

Hami had for years dreamed of being admitted to Saint-Cyr, which was founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

His qualifications – Hami had earned a diploma from elite university Sciences Po, studied Mandarin and excelled at sports – allowed him to enter the officer school directly as a third-year trainee.