- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

PARIS (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) — France's Socialist government risks provoking a culture clash with the armed forces if it pushes on with plans to extend a law reducing the work week to 35 hours to soldiers, officers said yesterday.
Defense Minister Alain Richard on Thursday raised the possibility of including France's 350,000 troops, air crews and sailors in the scope of a law that has altered the lives of many civilians and created thousands of jobs.
"I think that it is legitimate because military personnel … should take the maximum benefit from the progress being made in French society," he said.
But the idea appears certain to meet strong resistance within the armed forces, which are undergoing the final stages in a transition from conscription toward becoming a fully professional body for the first time in their history.
"At 35 hours, most soldiers would have finished their week by Wednesday," noted a senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government was not proposing to apply the law rigidly to a profession which by its nature and tradition must always be ready to respond to the unexpected, Mr. Richard admitted.
But while the letter of the law could not be applied on the battlefield, or even on peacekeeping missions or in intensive training programs, the government wants to reduce the general workload of the troops in line with the transformation overtaking much of French working life.
Already the 80,000 civilian support staffers working for the Defense Ministry and armed services have seen their work week cut back and are enjoying the extra leisure time created by new days off.
"That wasn't a problem," a defense official said.
But officers warned that applying the measure to soldiers would be very difficult, and all but impossible for personnel on active duty abroad, such as the Foreign Legion infantry units engaged in NATO's mission to collect rebel arms in Macedonia.
Even inside France, the army — slimmed down in numbers since the abolition of the draft this year — is active on many fronts.
Above all, military critics say, even a "flexible" plan to reduce working hours is in contradiction with the principle of permanent readiness written into the military code, which does not sit well with "civilian clock-watching culture."


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