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LIVING IN FRANCE

Is France really bringing back national service for teenagers?

This week marks the beginning of a new trial period for national service in France - but it's a long way from shaven-headed teenage military conscripts.

Is France really bringing back national service for teenagers?
Teenagers on national service will wear navy uniforms. Photo: AFP

What is happening?

Around 2,000 French teenagers are now piloting the month-long Service national universel (SNU) scheme which is set to be rolled out across France in the coming years as a compulsory part of life for 15 and 16 year-olds.

Emmanuel Macron unveiled the idea while on the campaign trail in 2017. Photo: AFP

Is it really national service?

Well sort of, but it's not the same as military service. France scrapped compulsory military service in 1997 and teenagers will be relieved to learn that they're not expected to do 10 months of square-bashing, boot polishing and cross country runs on this new scheme.

Instead, this new national service is more civil based. It's the brainchild of French president Emmanuel Macron, who surprised many people when he announced it on the campaign trial in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election.

He said he would introduce a month-long compulsory national service, saying he wanted to give girls and boys “a direct experience of military life”.

The proposal got a cool response from the army, which balked at the prospect of having to put millions of teens through their paces, prompting the government to come back with proposals for a compulsory civic service instead.

So what will the teenagers be doing if they're not playing with guns?

They will basically be learning useful skills and doing some community engagement. The trial cohort of 2,000 teenagers – who were chosen from among 4,000 volunteers – will leave home for another region for the two weeks, during which time they will be required to wear navy uniforms and sing the Marseillaise, France's national anthem, every morning.

Described as an “integration phase”, the teens will be taught first aid, map reading, and other skills.

A second two-week phase, later this summer or during the coming school year, involves work on a “collective project”, such as volunteering with a charity or local government.

Macron has billed the service as a way to develop patriotism and social cohesion in a country battling deep divisions between left and right, rich and poor, and religious and non-religious.

So is it compulsory?

It's not now, the teenagers doing it this summer are all volunteers, but Macron intends that the programme will be written into the constitution, and will be rolled out over the next seven years, targeting about 800,000 youngsters per year, eventually becoming compulsory.

France already requires all citizens to participate in a one-day “Defence and Citizenship” course when they turn 18, which includes a presentation of the country's military forces and a French language test.

Macron himself is the first French president not to have been called up to serve, having come of age after the compulsory 10 months of military service for school-leaving men was abolished by ex-president Jacques Chirac in 1997, with the last conscripts discharged in 2001.

Still it could be worse, if you're a teenager in North Korea you face 11 years of compulsory military service if you are a man, and seven if you are a woman – the world's longest national service.

Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and Greece still have compulsory military service.

The last time men were called to duty through conscription in the UK was in 1960 while in the US it was in 1973.

Member comments

  1. All democratic countries should require a YEAR of paid compulsory national service, which would NOT include an “internship” in an haute couture fashion house for children of the sociopathologically rich!

  2. The two year national service put discipline and service into a lot of would be hooligans. It might also deter our islamic brethren from joining. Swearing allegiance to their adopted country might be against their religion. I assume this includes young women. No place for burkas and hijabs when square bashing at 6am. Bring it on.

  3. I think it is a good idea. It may just teach them some respect for those protecting the country.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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