Editor : David Thomas
Translator : Pierre Thomas

As set up by the French government in 2006, the volunteer civil service might well become compulsory. But many people speak up denouncing a political takeover of this scheme and a massive way of precariousness for young people. This is where things stand in a debate opened about fifteen years ago and which is likely to start again.

Ten years after the military service was repealed in 1997 during Jacques Chirac’s tenure, the volunteer civil service was enforced in France. This scheme was prepared by Martin Hirsh who was to become president of the agency of civil service set up to drive the measure during Nicolas Sarkozy’s tenure. As Luc Ferry, minister for education from 2001 to 2004, sees it, “there is no more republican melting-pot, no more social blending, no more authority in the better sense of the word. The young have a feeling that there are only rights and no more duties.”1. In order to address this lack, the government wanted to encourage young citizens to commit themselves into projects stimulating for themselves and useful for common interest. But many saw there above all a political diversion, enabling to extinguish the crisis in the suburbs while reassuring public opinion.

Join the service?

The enactment of compulsory volunteering has been contemplated since the early 2000’s. Members of parliament – government and opposition alike – have repeatedly laid bills, to not avail so far. The project was part of the platforms of the main parties in the presidential election of 2007, and that should be so again in 2012. As early as in 2005, Max Armamet, editor in weekly La Vie, published a “call for a compulsory civil service” endorsed by many personalities like Edgar Morin, Jacques Attali, Bernard Kouchner, l’Abbé Pierre as well as 470 m.p.s and a score of thousand anonymous people.

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