France to Bring Back Mandatory National Service for All 16-Year-Olds

An image taken on Sept. 26, 2017 shows high school students using smartphones and tablet computers at the vocational school in Bischwiller, eastern France. (Credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)

An image taken on Sept. 26, 2017 shows high school students using smartphones and tablet computers at the vocational school in Bischwiller, eastern France. (Credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron is bringing mandatory national service back to France.

The service program, called the universal national service, will require every French citizen to participate when he or she turns 16 years old.

The aim of the service program is to “encourage the participation and commitment of every young person in the life of the nation, to value citizenship and the feeling of belonging to a community gathered around its values, to strengthen social cohesion and boost the republican melting pot,” according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.

“The (program) will be a time to meet others that will be useful and profitable for every young person, and a special opportunity to learn and receive, but also to give and engage, regardless of social background.”

Program set to start in 2019

The program will be done in two parts. The first part lasts for about a month and requires participants to live together as they “develop a culture of commitment to strengthen their place and role in society.”

For the second part, the young people will be encouraged to a voluntarily commitment of at least three months. During this time their activities could be related to defense and security in the army, police, gendarmerie, fire service, or civil security; accompanying and helping others; helping preserve national heritage or the environment; or tutoring.

The service program will start at the beginning of the 2019 school year, an official with France’s Education Ministry said. The Elysee Palace said a working group hopes to make formal recommendations to Macron on how to specifically implement the service program by the end of the year.

“There are many questions to ask,” French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said.

Poll shows support from French people

Macron, who didn’t serve in the armed forces, first brought up the idea for a revival of a national service program during a speech in March 2017, although his original vision was much more militaristic.

“Through a direct experience of the military life, its know-how and its requirements, every young French person will go to meet their fellow citizens, will experience social diversity, and republican cohesion for a month,” he said. “It will help young people to prepare their entry into professional life as well as into their life as citizens. ”

A YouGov poll in February 2018 showed that 60% of French people favored a compulsory national service of between three and six months.

Mandatory military service in France ended in 1997.