A National Guard for France

What is this new National Guard announced yesterday, 28 July, by French President François Hollande? Difficult to say just yet because the details will be worked out next week at a Defence Council and will then be debated in September by the French parliament. But this is what we know so far.

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Reservists in the French army

Hollande specified that the National Guard will be “built from existing operational reserves” and stressed that it “is not designed to take the place of the security forces but to back them up, to strengthen them.”  He appears to have backed down from his original idea of including the Civil Security and the fire-brigades after a meeting yesterday afternoon with Senators Gisèle Jourda (Socialist) and Jean-Marie Bockel (UDI), who published a report on the reserves on 13 July, and Parliamentarians Marianne Dubois (Republican) and Joaquim Pueyo (Socialist) who published a report on 9 December 2015 on citizen’s involvement in the armed forces.

Senator Gisèle Jourda, senator for the French department Aude in southern France.

Senator Gisèle Jourda, senator for the French department Aude in southern France.

Jourda told FOB today in a telephone interview that Hollande had “listened very attentively” to them and that his thoughts on the matter had “evolved” after realising that the Gendarmerie and armed forces existing reserve structures could rapidly be built upon. She added that “there is no need to invent a new system” because the National Guard would build on what is already there. “This is not a gadget, it is a way of federating what we have.” She insisted that the National Guard is not just a new name but a way of breathing new life into the army reserves which have so far been used as an adjustment variable for the army which has not had the tools (i.e. financial or logistical) to make it work properly.

Questions arise however. If the National Guard includes the Gendarmerie, which ministry will have authority for it? The armed forces are under the authority of the Ministry of Defence whilst the Gendarmerie is under the Ministry of the Interior… most of the time although for some operations it is under the defence ministry! An additional problem to be addressed is that the Gendarmerie in France polices rural areas whilst the National Police has responsibility for policing towns and cities. So will a “gendarme” in the National Guard be able to be deployed outside a museum in Paris, for example, when normally that would be the responsibility of the police? As Jourda said: “The devil lies in the details.”

Today any French national aged between 17 and 50 who has a clean criminal record and meets the required physical and mental aptitude tests can join the operational reserves. S/he signs a renewable one to four year contract with one of the three forces, or the gendarmerie or one of the directorates or services of the defence ministry. A second level of reserves, RO2, for all ex-military personnel until five years after their departure from the armed forces also exists, but as Jourda told FOB “this doesn’t work terribly well because they are under no obligation to keep the defence ministry updated as to their whereabouts”. A reservist can serve a maximum of 30 days a year with the current average being 20 to 30 days. However, in case of necessity another 60, 150 or 210 days can be added. When on operation reservists get the same pay (tax-free) as their full-time military grade counterpart and their mission transport, food and housing are taken care of. Employers are not allowed to sack or demote their employees who are with the reserves.