France is trialling a new national service programme for 15 and 16-year-olds, twenty years after the country phased out conscription for men.
Called the “service national universel” (SNU), the scheme was proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron, reports France 24. It will see thousands of teenagers spend 10 days learning key skills like map reading and first aid.
Wearing navy uniforms, the first group of 2,000 volunteers will take over boarding schools, holiday villages and university campuses. Each morning they will sing the French national anthem, and gain direct exposure to military-style life.
Later this summer, the recruits will take part in collective projects such as volunteering for charity work or local government.
President Macron has presented the SNU as a way of developing patriotism and national cohesion among the French youth.
At the moment, participation is voluntary but in the future the programme could expand to include 800,000 teenagers each year and be compulsory for young people to take part.
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While a YouGov poll last year found that a majority of French people support mandatory national service, the new programme is not without its critics. Military and student groups have condemned its high cost.
Some of France’s neighbours have national service, including Switzerland, which voted on three separate occasions against plans to eliminate the draft.
Other European nations have brought back conscription. Lithuania returned to national service due to security concerns, while Sweden revived its programme last year after a seven-year break that saw a drop in new recruits to the military.