Frontrunner in French elections calls for return of conscripted military service

Emmanuel Macron has moved solidly into the lead in France’s upcoming presidential elections. If the numbers play out as currently predicted he will emerge from the first round of voting as the favorite going into a runoff election against Marine Le Pen. But as we’ve seen with so many other European races this year, it’s possible that the pressure from more populist, right-leaning candidates is pushing the very liberal, former cabinet member to take on some decidedly nationalistic looking traits. The candidates will be participating in debates this week and Macron has introduced another such wrinkle in his platform with a call for reinstating conscription of young people into French military service in response to the many terror attacks they have suffered of late. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday he wanted to restore military service to France for some 600,000 young people each year as part of efforts to face a world entering an era of “turbulence” comparable to the Cold War.

Polls suggest the 39-year-old former investment banker, running as an independent centrist, will win the May 7 runoff with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who herself has promised to bring back conscription 16 years after it ended.

Ahead of the first face-to-face televised debates with his rivals for the Élysée Palace next week, Mr Macron’s speech to the military, defence and foreign policy community sought to allay criticism from his opponents that he would be too inexperienced for the top job.

It’s very unlikely that Macron would be adopting such a stance were it not for the surging popularity of Marine Le Pen and her more conservative supporters. But he’s also clearly reacting to unpleasant realities which can simply no longer be ignored. The French faced yet another terror threat this weekend which was narrowly averted when a man shouting Islamic phrases attempted to seize a rifle and begin murdering people. While civilian casualties were thankfully avoided, it was yet another reminder of the far more deadly attacks which have taken place in recent years.

One of the criticisms that Emmanuel Macron has faced is that he might be too young and inexperienced for the presidency. Taking a closer look at this new proposal, those critiques may be warranted. The headline is a real attention grabber because of the huge number of young people (we’re talking about 600,000 per year) who would be conscripted under his plan. But the reality is that each one of them would serve for only a brief period of time, perhaps as short as one month.

Seriously? Does the presidential aspirant have any experience at all in dealing with military training and deployment? How much does he think can be accomplished in a period of 30 days? In the United States that’s not enough time to even get through the first phase of boot camp. If he intends for these new recruits to be out on the streets and actually providing any measure of protection against terror threats, a plan like this would leave little time to do more than take someone’s measurements for a uniform, hand them a rifle and load them onto a truck to head out on patrol.

That sounds like a formula for disaster to me. And who is going to process more than half a million conscripts and do the necessary vetting? It seems as if they would need to be concerned over the possibility that some of the new recruits would turn out to be among the small but worrisome population of aspiring jihadists infecting France. Putting them in an official looking uniform and handing them weapon might be… ill advised.

Macron appears to be throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks among a population of voters who are rightly concerned over security and terror threats. Promising to beef up the military sounds more like something out of the Donald Trump playbook than anything his liberal predecessors would endorse. He’s also employing some new rhetoric which sounds suspiciously familiar.

He vowed to strengthen France’s overseas operations against Islamist militants in the Middle East and Africa, face Russia’s “military affirmation”, the United States’ “unpredictability” and the “militarisation of terrorism” that was leading to acts of war on home soil…

Outlining the need for Europe to reaffirm itself in the face of major powers like Russia, China and the US, Mr Macron insisted that he would “serve France’s interests firsts” to ensure it kept its strategic autonomy and was able to act alone at any moment if needed.

Serve France’s interests first?” That’s not too many steps away from “America first.” And Macron is now listing the United States among nations that France needs to be concerned about due to our “unpredictability.” Are we really sure that this guy has the election wrapped up? Because it sounds to me as if he’s really scrambling at this point.