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On Macron's orders: France will bring back compulsory national service

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By Pascale Davies
On Macron's orders: France will bring back compulsory national service
Copyright  Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters

The French government has introduced a plan to bring back compulsory national service for 16-year-olds.

President Emmanuelle Macron vowed to reinstate military service during his election campaign.

Back in 2017, Macron pledged to give all young people “a direct experience of military life with its know-how and demands” and said restoring national service would promote a sense of national unity and social cohesion.

But the plan announced on Wednesday is a watered-down version of Macron's original idea. The government will trial the softened programme called the Service National Universel (Universal National Service) in 2019.

Girls and boys will have to do a minimum one-month placement, with a focus on civic culture. That could involve teaching, working with charities, and traditional military training with the police, fire service or army.

They can then volunteer to do a further three months to a year after that, which could involve an area linked to defence and security, or more volunteer work.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaus said: "There are different conditions that will be put in place, people who can do longer periods, according to their desires, whether in the associative field, in the military, in the civic field, or in the health sector."

People in France have mixed feelings about the plan. One criticism is that it would cost France too much and overburden the military, which is already stretched thin by anti-terrorism operations in the Middle East and Africa, as well as patrols against jihadists back home.

Before the plan was announced, several youth organisations objected to what they called inconsistencies, and that young people should be free to choose if they want to participate.

Macron is the first French president not to have done military service as he came of age after the practice was scrapped in 1996.