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Return of military service in France?
As many as 80% of French people are in favour for the re-launch of national service, according to an Ifop (French institute of public opinion) poll conducted from 21 to 23 January. Previous studies had already shown that about 60% of the French wished that military service had not been stopped. “Voices are being raised in support of a national service”, said the polling organisation.
Today, four French people in five are therefore in favour of this measure, with very little difference between men (81%) and women (78%). However, the degree of support varies with age; the older those surveyed are, the more favourable they are to idea (90% among those 65 and older, 69% among those under 35). For those aged 18 to 24, the most affected age group, a large majority (67%) wants to see a return of national service. Why such a support? These figures can be explained by “the need for strong integration tools, which might, not only mix people from different social background but also ensure a transmission of Republican values and reinforce national cohesion”, Ifop revealed.
That is precisely what Xavier Bertrand is defending. On Sunday, the UMP MP announced he was going to bring in a bill for the creation of a new national service. Three obligatory months for boys and girls, led by reservists and former soldiers; a way to “re-give a sense of community and do away with the political religious and social affiliations”, he said. Other former UMP ministers like François Baroin or Bruno Le Maire showed their interest in the idea. Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian also played his part in the debate: “not sure this corresponds to today’s threat”, he declared. “We made the choice of a professional army, and we can see, with the risks we are facing, that we need a professional army.” Like François Hollande, he speaks in favour of a reinforcement of the civic volunteer service, instead of a re-introduction of military service - which could be pretty similar to the Comined Cadet Force in the UK. The proposal clearly has its own challenges, on human, technical and financial levels.
As a reminder, national service was “suspended” by Jacques Chirac in 1996, so that the army could be modernised and made more efficient. “The Military service was created in 1905, as you know, at a time when we needed boots on the ground to respond to external threats – if I might say so – against an exterior danger”, the President had explained. Well, ten years later, the threat is real and it is there.