France Will Readopt National Service For Youth

National Service Program

Recently, Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron launched an effort to re-institute national service for teens in France. He wants 16-year old French youth to spend at least a month donating their time on behalf of the public. The trial program will commence during 2019. It involves two distinct parts: a month-long required "placement" within a civic program, followed by optional service in a field supporting national security goals.

Keeping a Campaign Promise

Prime Minister Macron first broached the national service idea during his election campaign. At that time, he hoped to re-introduce mandatory national military service for all young people. Nations as diverse as Israel and North Korea require compulsory citizen military service.

The current program contemplates a civilian focus. Entitled "Universal National Service" it requires only 30 days of labor. Both boys and girls must complete an internship in a program emphasizing French cultural values. Acceptable national service could involve training for disaster relief, learning military skills, volunteering at charities, or working as tutors.

Generational Divides

Ironically, Prime Minister Macron himself never participated in any national service program, civilian or military. France eliminated compulsory national military service in 1996. Emmanuel Macron becomes the first Prime Minister in recent years without this martial background.

His proposal for Universal National Service may have struck a generational divide in France. Recent polls by the YouGov website suggest a narrow majority of the French population supports the idea (roughly 60%). However, the popularity of mandatory national service declines precipitously when pollsters limit their inquiries to young French citizens.

Making a Volunteer Commitment Compulsory

Some nations around the world maintain programs of national service, in which young people who have reached a designated age perform free labor on behalf of the public as an obligation of citizenship. (France already operates a completely voluntary national service program for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 with an international focus. Administered by the Agence du Service Civique it reportedly sponsors projects around the world (in some 40 nations). A 2010 law implemented this framework.)

A recent academic study from the United States reports some nations, including Mexico and Nigeria, maintain programs compelling university students to perform national service for in-demand skills. Germany gives its military conscripts the option of performing compulsory national service as an alternative to receiving military training, for example.

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