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French military to be allowed to form professional associations, not unions

media French soldiers in Chad's capital Ndjamena to take part in the Barkhane operation against Islamist militias in the Sahel Reuters/Emma Farge

French soldiers’ rights campaigners have welcomed President François Hollande’s announcement Friday that they will be allowed to form professional associations, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). France has stopped short of allowing full-blown union rights, as enjoyed by soldiers in some other European countries.

“It’s a great victory for us,” Jacques Bessy, the president of the Association for the Protection of the Rights of Service Personnel (Adefdromil) told RFI after Hollande’s announcement.

A bill will be submitted to parliament based on a report drawn up after October's ECHR ruling that France should allow its servicemen the right of free association, Hollande said on Friday.

Only three countries in western Europe still refuse to grant the right of association to military personnel – France Italy and the UK.

“We have very good relationship with Baff, which is the British Armed Forces Federation,” Bessy said on Friday. “And I know they are fighting for the recognition of this right and we hope that the example of France will be followed in UK.”

Italian service personnel will also probably be affected by the French decision, he believes.

Adefdromil was one of two organisations that took the case to the European court on the grounds that personnel in a professional army need the right of association to take up concerns like sexual and moral harassment or day-to day problems such as pay, equipment and training.

Although soldiers in some countries, such as the Netherlands, have the right to join unions, Bessy says his organisation is not disappointed that they will not be allowed in the French military.

“Of course a trade union is not appropriate with the military function of accomplishing a mission so the right of association is perfect for the moment,” he said. “In the future we will see.”

French police do have union rights, although gendarmes are technically part of the military and so do not.

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