Emmanuel Macron had promised to make the SNU compulsory

What are the intentions of Emmanuel Macron and the government regarding universal national service (UNS)? The generalization to all young people of this distant descendant of military service, once announced, no longer seems so obvious

Emmanuel Macron had promised to make the SNU compulsory

What are the intentions of Emmanuel Macron and the government regarding universal national service (UNS)? The generalization to all young people of this distant descendant of military service, once announced, no longer seems so obvious. An about-face that the executive seems determined to forget.

"You are opposing a fantasy", thus launched on France 3 Center-Val de Loire the Secretary of State in charge of youth, Sarah El Haïry, on Sunday April 30. Facing her, the activist of the Young Ecologists Noé Petit, opposed to this project "of recruitment and militarization of youth", had just reminded her that the President of the Republic had wanted to make the SNU compulsory but had had to back down "to cause of social protests". In defiance of the facts, Ms. El Haïry replied that "at no time did the President of the Republic say, did he express the idea that it was compulsory".

Why it's wrong

Sarah El Haïry is wrong since, from his 2017 presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron had assured that he wanted to "strengthen the army-nation link" thanks to the establishment of "a short-term, compulsory and universal national service".

Two years after coming to power, the president launched the UNS in 2019 in an experimental form, with the aim of eventually making it mandatory. This offers teenagers aged 15 to 17 the opportunity to participate in a "cohesion stay" in boarding school for two weeks, then on a mission of general interest of at least eighty-four hours. A third phase of the SNU, optional, offers young people a "voluntary commitment" of three months to a year by becoming a reservist, volunteer firefighter or during a civic service.

Deemed too expensive and too military by many opponents, the UNS is still in the experimental phase and for the moment only concerns young volunteers: there were 14,650 in 2021 and 32,000 in 2022. Until Tuesday, it was written on the SNU website: "The cohesion stay (phase 1) and the realization of a mission of general interest (phase 2) planned within the framework of the SNU are intended to become compulsory for the whole of a age class. Contacted, the Ministry of Education (on which Sarah El Haïry depends) did not answer our questions about these contradictions. Tuesday afternoon, the page of the government site had been modified and no longer mentioned the desire to make the service compulsory.

The Head of State had promised in his vows of December 31, 2022 to lay "in the next few weeks or months the first milestones of a universal national service". "I will have the opportunity to come back to it in the weeks to come," he said again on January 20 before the armies. But in full mobilization against the pension reform, the government had to revise its ambitions downwards, and finally excluded the elements of financing the generalization of the UNS from the military programming law presented on April 4.

Logistical and budgetary difficulties

Questioned by readers of Le Parisien, on April 23, Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed his wish for its "gradual increase", but "without making it compulsory throughout the country overnight". "You have to go through the law to make it mandatory, but before you have to finalize the consultation, he conceded. I am in favor of moving forward. »

A Senate report, published on March 8, had recommended "suspending" this generalization of national service to an entire age group in view of the "uncertainties" of the project, particularly in terms of costs, estimated at more than 2 billion euros per year. The report also estimated that "the slowdown in the deployment of the SNU is primarily explained by the material difficulties encountered during the experiments".

If the SNU is not compulsory today, it is therefore not because the Head of State never intended it, as the Secretary of State for Youth asserts, but due to logistical and budgetary difficulties combined with an unfavorable political context.