Make sense of... Service national

Bringing back ‘national service’ is in the news again. Here we look at the history of this in France and what form the new version may take

President Macron believes a Service national universel for young people will encourage them to take a part in the life of the nation and promote social cohesion.

He wants it to be in place by the end of the year after a public consultation.

If it happens, it will be a return to form for France, which had national service for two centuries. It mostly consisted of service in the armed forces, also commonly known as service sous les drapeaux (‘under the flags’).


What used to happen

There was compulsory military service for young French men from the Revolution until 1997. It varied over the years from one to five years and, in 1965, was termed service national, though service militaire was still being used in everyday language in the 1990s.

In its final form it was for 10 months, or 20 for conscientious objectors who could take the option of alternatives like working for a charity ( ...

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