France hikes anti-terror budget despite austerity commitment

Manuel Valls announced new counter-terrorism measures this week. [CNNum/Flickr]

Manuel Valls has announced a 735 million euro plan to bolster France’s defences against terrorism over the next three years. The French government says this unplanned expenditure will not threaten their agreement with Brussels to reduce the national deficit. EURACTIV France reports

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a series of measures on Wednesday (21 January), designed to aid the country’s fight against terrorism, two weeks after the deadly attacks in Paris, which claimed 17 lives.

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Cacher supermarket demanded a swift, strong response from the national leaders, even if the French government quickly ruled out an equivalent of the “US Patriot Act”.

>> Read: Anti-terrorist measures in EU go in all directions

“The number of individuals being radicalised and becoming an active threat has not stopped rising,” Manuel Valls said.

“This change of scale is a formidable challenge for us and our allies, notably our European partners,” he added.

Valls drove the point home at a press conference, saying “we must use all necessary means”.

Accompanied by the Ministers of the Interior (Bernard Cazeneuve), Foreign Affairs (Laurent Fabuis), Defence (Jean-Yves Le Drian), Justice (Christiane Taubira) and the government spokesman (Stéphane le Foll), Manuel Valls detailed a string of new measures, including giving the counter-terrorism forces increased funding and man-power.

These new measures will create 2680 new jobs and will cost the French state a total of 735 million euros over the next three years.

This is a significant outlay at a time when France has committed to saving 50 billion euros between 2015 and 2017, in order to bring its excessive public deficit back below the eurozone’s 3% GDP limit.

>> Read: Ministers look to strip online jihad’s ‘glamour’

Due to the very restricted national budget, these anti-terror measures will be funded by savings made elsewhere in the 2016 budget, to be announced in autumn this year, but for 2015, the government will have to dig into its reserve credits.

“This extra expenditure will be offset by savings spread proportionally across the public budget, year on year,” the Prime Minister explained.

Budget off course

The head of the French government said there would be no contradiction between this new spending and the budgetary austerity France had promised Brussels.

“We have made commitments to Europe and we will keep them,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, said.

Paris has also ruled out using this extra security spending as leverage to gain extra flexibility from the European Commission in its impending excessive deficit judgement.

“We will not ask Brussels for special treatment concerning our efforts,” Laurent Fabius explained.

>> Read: Commission delays French deficit procedure

This gesture of good faith towards Brussels comes a few weeks before the European Commission is due to return its verdict on the French budget, which will fail to reach its objective of bringing the deficit down to below 3% by the end of 2015. 

A series of terrorist attacks took place in France in January 2015, leaving 17 people dead. European countries have announced different plans to fight the evolving threat from jihadists.

Two priority tracks were identified following a meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers held in Paris on 11 January:

  • Hampering the travel movements of terrorists, including so-called “foreign fighters” and European nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
  • Countering terrorist propaganda, particularly on the Internet, in order to tackle the root causes of radicalisation among young people.

One key issue to be discussed is a proposal for EU states to share records of air passengers – or PNR – a measure that has been held up in the European Parliament over privacy concerns.

>> Read our LinksDossier: From 9/11 to Charlie Hebdo: The EU’s response to terrorism

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