France urges European defence cooperation on Bastille Day

Crowds in Paris were wowed by a rifle-wielding man swooping through the air on a flyboard device

epa07716194 Cadets from Saint-Cye officer school march during the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France, 14 July 2019. Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789.  EPA/IAN LANGSDON
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European leaders joined French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday for the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, at which Mr Macron urged greater European military cooperation.

Mr Macron highlighted his commitment to European defence integration in his annual July 14 message posted online ahead of the parade.

“Not since the end of the Second World War has Europe been so necessary,” Mr Macron said. “Building European defence, in connection with the Atlantic Alliance… is a priority for France.”

He added: "Acting together and strengthening our ability to act collectively is one of the challenges that the European Intervention Initiative, along with other key European projects, wants to address."

Flags of the 10 countries of the European Intervention Initiative, a joint military pact created last year, led Sunday’s parade. The French-led initiative includes Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

After riding down the iconic Champs-Elysees avenue in a military vehicle escorted by motorcycles and a cavalry procession, Mr Macron joined leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for the parade, which began with a display of technological innovations.

The parade included over 4,000 troops, 69 planes and 39 helicopters. The biggest crowd-pleaser though was a rifle-wielding man rocketing through the air on a flyboard device – the invention of French former jet-skiing champion Franky Zapata.

The flyboard could have several military applications, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told France Inter radio, including “a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform."

On Saturday, Mr Macron announced he had approved the formation of a space command within the French air force.

"To give substance to this doctrine and ensure the development and reinforcement of our space capabilities, a space command will be created next September in the air force," Mr Macron said, adding that it would later become the Space and Air Force.

Mr Macron said the new military doctrine setting up a space command would strengthen protection of French satellites. The investment involved is yet to be determined, he said.

Ms Parly said last year she was committed to giving France strategic space autonomy in the face of growing threats from other powers amid a race in space militarisation.

The French military spending programme for 2019-2025 has earmarked 3.6 billion euros (Dh14.9bn) for investments and renewal of French satellites.

Nato aims to recognise space as a domain of warfare this year, four senior diplomats told Reuters in June.

US President Donald Trump's administration announced a plan last year to create a new "Space Force" as the sixth branch of the military by 2020.

Tensions in the street remain high in Paris following months of demonstrations by the anti-Macron yellow vest protesters, who want more support for French workers. On Sunday, police grabbed protest leader Eric Drouet on the sidelines of the parade and escorted him away.

Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, one of the key events of the French Revolution. The day is a national holiday in France.

At the 2017 Bastille Day celebration, the pomp so impressed guest of honour Mr Trump that he ordered a military parade in Washington for America’s July 4 celebrations.