French President Macron brings back national service for youth to promote social cohesion

French President Emmanuel Macron had introduced the idea of national service in his presidential campaign, but some have objected to it.
French President Emmanuel Macron had introduced the idea of national service in his presidential campaign, but some have objected to it.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - France has announced a plan to bring back some form of national service for all 16-year-olds, with the aim of promoting a sense of national unity and social cohesion among young French citizens, BBC reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron had introduced the idea in his presidential campaign, but some have objected to it, according to the report by BBC on Wednesday (June 27).

Fourteen youth organisations have voiced unhappiness over the idea of being forced to take part in such a programme.The French Constitution bans the state from forcing an entire section of the population to spend time away from home, except for national defence.

Still, about 60 per cent of the French population are in favour of the new national service, according to a YouGov poll carried out in March. The number dips, however, to just below half when younger people are asked for their views.

The national service will involve all 16-year-old girls and boys.

It will be divided into two phases.

The first phase is mandatory. It will last for one month with a focus on civic culture, which will "enable young people to create new relationships and develop their role in society", the BBC cited the government as saying.

Besides traditional military preparation with the army, police, or fire service, the government is also considering options such as voluntary teaching and working with charities.

Previously, all young French men had to serve for the best part of a year in the armed forces. The old post-war draft ended in 1997.

Macron is the first French president to not have served military service as it was scrapped for the new intake in 1996, when Macron was 18.

Under the latest programme, the second phase, which is voluntary, will last from three months to a year. The young people will be encouraged to serve "in an area linked to defence and security", BBC reported.

But they could also opt to do volunteer work linked to heritage, environmental or social care, the report added.

Macron had initially wanted some kind of military service for French citizens between the ages of 18 and 21. They would get a "direct experience of military life" for at least one month.

But that plan was shelved partly due to concerns over the high cost and that it may overburden the French armed forces, BBC reported.

The latest watered down version is called Universal National Service and is expected to cost €1.6 billion (S$2.5 billion) a year to run.

The government hopes to roll out the programme from early next year, following consultations which will begin now.