This is a short sentence that demonstrates the current embarrassment of the executive about the national service universe universal national service (SNU). Questioned by a young environmental activist on Emmanuel Macron’s project to make the SNU compulsory, Sunday April 30 on the set of France 3 Centre-Val de Loire, the Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Haïry asserts with aplomb: “At no time did the President of the Republic say, did he express the idea that it (would be) compulsory. »
Universal national service: “at no time did the President of the Republic express the idea that it was compulsory”, assures the Secretary of State in charge of the UNS@sarahelhairyopposite the activist of the Young Ecologists Noé Petit, in “Dimanche en Politique” pic.twitter.com/c2W9vz9jg6
– France 3 Center-Loire Valley (@F3Centre) April 30, 2023
An inaccurate assertion, the last recent reversal of the government on this undermined subject. Because the initial and long proclaimed ambition was to make this service “compulsory”. The word appeared in Emmanuel Macron’s program in 2017, which planned to reinstate “a short, compulsory and universal national service”, a kind of military service for young people aged 18 to 21.
—Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 18, 2017
The SNU will be created two years after its election, as an experiment and with a largely revised form. Finally, it is aimed at young people of French nationality aged 15 to 17 and is divided into several phases: a two-week cohesion stay, a mission of general interest of at least 84 hours and a third, optional, which offers young people to pursue their approach by committing themselves further, for example by becoming a reservist or performing civic service. The clearly stated objective is then to quickly make it compulsory for an entire age group, ie approximately 800,000 young people per year.
A project hit by the pension reform
In fact, progress, admittedly hampered by the health crisis, is laborious. They were 2,000 volunteers in 2019, 15,000 in 2021, 32,000 in 2022 while the announced objective was to welcome 50,000. This did not prevent the Head of State from continuing to mention an obligation future, during his vows to the French on December 31 or during his vows to the armies, on January 20.
But the mobilization against the pension reform came to hit the project. In the processions, the young people, encouraged by several left-wing politicians, multiply the slogans against the UNS, which they accuse of wanting to “militarize” the youth, and against the obligation which would be “a passage in force”. In early March, an article in the weekly Politis fueled the controversy, unveiling a national education document which evoked a “gradually compulsory” SNU, after an experiment “at the start of the 2023-2024 school year in six departments”.
From obligation to generalization
A procedure confirmed, all in nuances, by the President of the Republic in an interview with Parisian on April 23. “I think that we cannot make it compulsory throughout the country overnight”, cautiously advanced Emmanuel Macron, specifying that it will be compulsory first in “a few departments, then a little more” and this in because of the “logistical challenge” that this represents. A report from the Senate, published in early March, recommended indeed to “suspend” the generalization of the SNU “in view of the uncertainties” of the project, in particular in terms of costs, “probably higher than 2 billion euros” annually.
To calm things down, the vocabulary has been adapted. The Secretary of State only speaks of “generalization”. “Generalization is an increase in load, it is (…) allowing a maximum of young people to benefit and live this time”, retorted Sarah El Haïry Sunday on the set of France 3. Since then, the household has been made on the UNS website. The first two phases of the service “are intended to become compulsory for an entire age group”, could we still read Tuesday, May 2 in response to the “frequent questions” asked on the site. A page updated today, which now simply states that “the SNU is not compulsory”.