France’s annual Bastille Day parade showcased European military cooperation and innovation on Sunday, complete with a French inventor hovering above Paris on a jet-powered flyboard.
The former jetskiing champion and military reservist Franky Zapata clutched a rifle as he soared above the Champs-Élysées on his futuristic machine, which the French military has helped to develop.
The board, which was first created to fly above water, can reach speeds of up to 190km per hour and can run for 10 minutes.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, flanked by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders, nodded in approval and applauded the 40-year-old Zapata, who was referred to by astonished French TV commentators as “James Bond”.
The French armed forces minister, Florence Parly, said before the parade that the flyboard could “allow tests for different kinds of uses, for example as a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform”.
Macron had invited Merkel and other leaders to the parade as part of his drive for deeper European defence cooperation. “Never, since the end of the second world war, has Europe been so important,” the French president said.
But as Macron opened the parade by being driven down the Champs-Élysées in an open-topped military vehicle, waving to a flag-carrying crowd, a few gilets jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protestors, who had mingled with onlookers despite tight security, inflated yellow balloons and booed the president.
Two key figures from the gilets jaunes movement – which has held weekly protests for more than seven months – were arrested near the parade route in the morning.
The parade’s focus on European military cooperation meant it included troops and hardware from several different European nations, including British Chinook helicopters.
Paris has stressed that British-French defence cooperation will remain tight even as Brexit looms. But while the departing British prime minister, Theresa May, was expected to attend, she did not and the UK was represented by the senior cabinet minister David Lidington.
Macron had announced on Saturday that he would create a national space force command that will eventually be part of the French air force.