Today sees the official launch of France’s National Guard, set up less than three months after President François Hollande declared on 20 July that he had “chosen to call on all women and all men, whom, in parallel to their studies or their choice of profession, have chosen a commitment to serve for the protection of the French people.”
This volunteer force will serve in the operational reserves of the three branches of the armed services, the gendarmerie and the police; it will not be an autonomous entity – it has no specific uniform or insignia — but rather a grouping of volunteers who are fully integrated into the previously mentioned forces under the governance of both the Ministry of Defence (for those in the armed forces) and the Ministry of the Interior (for those in the police and the gendarmerie).
A secretary general will, de facto, run the National Guard with an interministerial team.
There will be 63,000 reservists with the National Guard this year but the objective is to raise this number progressively by 35% so that by 2018 it would amount to 85,000 people. Today some 5,500 reservists are deployed daily but by 2018 this would rise 68% to 9,250.
In order to encourage young people to join the National Guard a certain number of measures have been taken. The first is going to cost the State an estimated €5.5M: every young non-driver who signs up to the National Guard before their 25th birthday will get €1,000 to help pay for driving lessons on condition that they pass their driving test whilst they still have two years to serve in the National Guard. This measure excludes those having to pass their test again because their previous licence was confiscated after they committed a traffic offence.
Any young student under the age of 25 who signs up for five years and who is deployed for at least 37 days a year, will receive a monthly stipend of €100, a measure expected to cost the State €4.5M in 2017.
Any reservist who renews their initial contract for 3 to 5 years will get a premium payment of €250 if they have been deployed at least 37 days in the previous year. This measure will cost the State an estimated €2M a year.
And to encourage companies to let their employees go on National Guard deployments whilst still getting all or part of their salary there is a fiscal measure.
A web-site www.garde-nationale.fr has already been set up as the single portal where anyone interested in joining the National Guard can find all the relevant information and do a quick on-line questionnaire which will point them towards the most relevant force for them.
The minimum age for signing up is 17. National Guards have to sign a five-year contract and agree to be deployed on specific missions in France or abroad. But in return they will get some money, some training and recognition of their engagement by their employer.
Time will tell whether French youngsters take up this opportunity to serve their country.