Why a European judgment on the working time of the army arouses the anger of France

Should France treat its soldiers like any worker? In any case, this is what the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) considers in a stop published Thursday. According to this text, the soldiers of the Member States are subject to the same labor law as any worker, except in operations, to the chagrin of France whose armed forces are supposed to be “available at all times and in all places”.

The CJEU makes the distinction in this judgment between activities carried out “within the framework of a military operation or during its immediate preparation” and other more classic activities which “do not present particularities opposing any planning of the working time “respectful of European regulations.

The European directive adopted in 2003 – and pushed at the time by France – sets thresholds for workers not to exceed, in particular a minimum rest of 11 consecutive hours in 24-hour increments and a maximum weekly working time of 48 hours.

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According to the Court, the activities of the military “linked to administration, maintenance, repair, health, law enforcement or the prosecution of offenses” must comply with this directive. Germany has chosen to apply these rules in its armies. France, Spain and Slovenia were against it.

Directive incompatible

However, “in the main, France has not won its case”, deplores the Ministry of the Armed Forces, which pleaded for the possibility for Member States to fully exclude military personnel from the application of this directive.

Paris considers this directive incompatible with its particular model of professional armies, organized according to the principle of “availability at all times and in all places” which goes against a categorization of their activities.

“The military can switch to operational functions at any time with very short notice,” says one within the Ministry of the Armed Forces, while France is engaged on multiple fronts, from the Sahel to the Levant and the Indo -Pacific through the anti-terrorist mission “Sentinel” on the national territory.

A categorization of military activities

In order to continue the activities currently carried out by the military despite this decision, a new organization will have to be put in place. For Hervé Grandjean, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Armed Forces, this will result in “a categorization of the activities of our soldiers”, he explains to Figaro.

“To caricature, on the one hand there would be the soldiers who fight in the field, who are not subject to the limitation of working time, and on the other hand the soldiers who have for example maintenance activities, repair, health, administration, and whose working time would be framed by European law “, he illustrates on a daily basis.

This categorization, according to him, “runs up against the principle of the uniqueness of the military status in France, and ignores the reality of the daily life of our soldiers, who often exercise several jobs at the same time”. “When our Paris firefighters, who are soldiers, intervene to save Notre-Dame de Paris, are we going to let the towers of the cathedral collapse for reasons of working time?” he still.

Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for Europe, for his part rejects the passage to 35 hours. “No, our armies will obviously not be subject to 35 hours and the normal labor law” he slices on BFMTV.

“National defense issue”

The ministry also argues that the availability required of French soldiers is compensated by a high number of days of leave and a right to a full retirement after 17 years of career. But his arguments did not hit the mark with the European Court of Justice, nor the determination displayed by President Emmanuel Macron to preserve the special status of the French armies.

“I am an ardent European but I believe in the European way when I understand it and think that it is good for the national destiny. When it leads us to deny what defends us, what protects us, a militarism to which we hold, we do not give in. We have defended our status and we will hold out until the end, “he assured Tuesday in his address to the armies on the eve of the national holiday.

In February, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly also said she was “fiercely opposed” to a possible change in the status of the armed forces, citing an “essential stake in our national defense as well as in European security”. “France, which is now the only permanent member country of the UN Security Council, exercises eminent responsibilities in the field of defense. And what makes it possible to constantly ensure the security of the French and Europeans is precisely this principle of availability at all times and in all places of the military “, she had argued in the Senate.

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While no appeal is possible against a judgment of the CJEU, the Ministry of the Armed Forces now has to “check how this is expressed in French regulations”. “With this stop, we are opening a Pandora’s box”, worries a general officer, fearing that a period of “real questioning for our model” will begin.



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