For the first time since compulsory national service was suspended in 2001, decided in 1997, the French people have elected a president who proposes re-establishing a form of universal and compulsory service. The announcement by Emmanuel Macron caused a major stir during the election campaign. However, it was only the latest contribution to a long debate on how to mobilise young people for the good of society. It also corresponded to an increasingly apparent political concern for national cohesion and unity. It became explicit during the 2007 election campaign, marked by the memory of the recent 2005 urban riots, and now made omnipresent by the 2015 terrorist attacks. The debate was intended to implement this new national service. However, since the presidential campaign, it has instead revealed public confusion about the pre-2001 national service, as well as the difficulty of identifying the role that the armed forces – now fully professionalised – could play. This paper aims to explore this debate and resituate it in the context of the recurring discussions in French politics since 1997, as well as in the long-term perspective of France’s collective mindset. It will also examine how this idea is taking form at the European level.