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French military chief quits, first major sign of dissent under Macron's young presidency

  • General Pierre de Villiers, France's head of the armed forces, resigned Wednesday
  • Budget cuts were a point of contention between de Villiers and French President Emmanuel Macron
  • Macron's has vowed to shave 60 billion euros off public spending by 2022, though dissent at cuts is becoming palpable
Newly inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron arrives on the Champs-Elysees after his handover ceremony on May 14, 2017, in Paris, France.
Marc Piasecki | Getty Images
Newly inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron arrives on the Champs-Elysees after his handover ceremony on May 14, 2017, in Paris, France.

France's head of the armed forces resigned Wednesday citing cuts to the military's budget under new President Emmanuel Macron. The move is the culmination of a public spat between the two men.

In his resignation statement, translated by Reuters, General Pierre de Villiers said that: "In the current circumstances I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defense force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people." De Villiers' statement also detailed that Macron had accepted his resignation.

Last week, De Villiers used expletive language to express his dissatisfaction at the 850 million euro slash to France's defenses budget. "I may be stupid, but I know when I am being had," he said, according to sources unnamed by Reuters. His dissatisfaction came as France prepared to host U.S. President Donald Trump and display its military might on the national holiday of Bastille Day.

Macron responded with a firm hand, saying "I have made commitments, I am your boss," in a routine address to the French army Thursday. Though in a move that would mollify the military, he also announced that defense spending would rise from 2018.

Tension over Macron's proposed budget restructuring has been simmering in France in recent days. Earlier this week, leader of the Fifth Republic said that local authorities are expected to save 13 billion euros by 2022.

Macron's election campaign outlined his aim to shave 60 billion euros off French public spending in the five years that he would be in office. He also intends to rein in the country's fiscal deficit to below 3 percent of gross domestic product, in line with European Union rules. The euro zone's second largest economy is currently stuttering under high public debt and a swollen state.

Macron appointed General Francois Lecointre to be France's new military chief later Wednesday.

The French military is usually silent on political issues, and is known colloquially as "la grande muette," meaning "the great mute." De Villiers' noisy departure is rare.

Macron has in the past employed the symbolism of the French military to boost his profile as president, for example riding down the Champs-Elysees in a military vehicle at his inauguration.

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