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France

Macron to reintroduce national service

media Emmanuel Macron repested his pledge to introduce national service at the beginning of this year Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

France is to reintroduce mandatory national service, fulfilling a key campaign promise of President Emmanuel Macron.

The Universal National Service will target around 750,000 male and female 16-year-olds each year and will be divided into two phases with the objective "to promote a sense of civic duty and national unity among French youth" according to the president.

The main outline of plan was presented by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer at a ministerial meeting on Wednesday. It would take effect in the middle of 2019.

The first phase is a mandatory one-month placement with a focus on civic culture, such as teaching or working with charity.

It could also include traditional military preparation with the police, fire service or army.

The second phase is a voluntary placement of at least three months and up to a year, in an area linked to defence and security, but volunteer work linked to heritage, the environment or social care could also be accepted.

Macron's original plan has been somewhat watered down, partly due to the cost of implementing and running it.

A working group in charge of overseeing consultations estimated the programme could cost 1.6 billion euros a year, with 1.75 billion of initial investment.

Despite a YouGov poll showing about 60 percent of the population in favour of the plan, there has been fierce criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.

Youth organisations objected to what they called "inconsistencies" in the plan.

"Choosing a commitment is just as important as the commitment itself, if not more so," they said.

Sébastien Chenu, an MP from the far-right National Rally party (formally the National Front), slammed the proposal as a gimmick and "a sort of improved school camp".

The hard-left France Unbowed party also criticised the plan saying is not long enough to be effective.

MP Adrien Quatennens told Sud Radio that his party had a better proposition: a "civic service" of nine months between 18 and 25 years, paid the minimum wage, which would allow youth to improve their education levels in French and maths as well as pass the driving test.

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