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French PM announces defence shakeup

Latest update : 2008-07-24

French Prime Minister François Fillon announced a modernisation plan for a leaner and more mobile military reflecting new priorities. The plan involves shutting 83 units, including regiments, logistics centres and air force bases, from 2009 onwards.


According to a study by the Ministry of Defence, 87% of French people have a positive image of their army. Read what Jean-Vincent Brisset, a former general and current researcher with IRIS, has to say about the poll.



PARIS - France announced plans on Thursday to reduce the number of its military sites as part of a shake-up of defence strategy that Paris says will make the armed forces more efficient.


The area hardest hit by the closures was the northeast, which borders Germany, reflecting the shift in defence priorities outlined last month by President Nicolas Sarkozy who wants a smaller, more mobile army.


"The risk of invasion of our territory and the risk of war on the central European theatre is behind us," Defence Minister Herve Morin told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Francois Fillon.


French forces have been overrun by German troops three times in the past 150 years, but France's focus has shifted from fear of invasion by its larger neighbour to fighting global terrorism and conducting international operations.


In total 83 units -- a term that includes regiments, logistics centres and air force bases -- are due to be shut gradually from 2009 onwards, the government announced, adding that troops would in future be grouped in 85-90 bases.


"We have a much greater need for intelligence means, force projection means, lighter, more fast-reacting forces, most often in the framework of alliances in cooperation with our allies -- those of the Atlantic alliance or of the European Union," Fillon said, adding that almost all operations were for peacekeeping.


Fillon said the modernisation plan would generate savings of 2 billion euros ($3.14 billion) a year, which would be reinvested in the armed forces.


That will come as little consolation to the mayors of the many towns whose barracks will shut, removing hundreds or thousands of soldiers and their families, and a source of jobs and income for locals.


One such place is Bitche, one of the many eastern towns that will be hard hit.

Famous for holding out against the invading German forces in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, Bitche is set to lose its main employer when the 1,300 members of the 57th artillery regiment are moved to southern France next year.


"Bitche will become a big village," said Gerard Humbert, the mayor of the town of 5,700 inhabitants.


The government said it would take a series of measures to help towns and villages cope with the economic shock, including making 320 million euros available for projects such as regenerating the closed military sites.


But Fillon dismissed criticism of the plan, saying that the reforms were necessary however painful they may be.


"The army's role is not the organisation of our territory. The army's role is the French people's security," he said, adding: "It is in the general interest to have a rationalised military tool."

Date created : 2008-07-24