French soldiers' rights campaigners have welcomed President François Hollande's announcement that they will be allowed to form professional associations, following two rulings in October by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

France stopped short of allowing full-blown union rights. There was never any question of granting the right to strike, which campaigners had not sought.

"It's a great victory for us," Jacques Bessy, the president of the Association for the Protection of the Rights of Service Personnel (Adefdromil) told French broadcaster RFI after President Hollande's announcement.

"We have a very good relationship with BAFF, which is the British Armed Forces Federation," Bessy said on Friday. "And I know they are fighting for the recognition of this right and we hope that the example of France will be followed in UK."

ADEFDROMIL was one of two organisations that took the case to the European court on the grounds that personnel in a professional army need the right of association to take up concerns like sexual and moral harassment or day-to day problems such as pay, equipment and training.

President Holland accepted the recommendations in a closely-researched report by Bernard Pêcheur, head of the country's senior administrative court, the Conseil d'État. M Pêcheur's report mentions BAFF twice, describing it as "tolerated" by this country's MoD, a situation in "doubtful" compliance with ECHR. He also said (rough translation):

... [UK] Service personnel are forbidden to create military unions. UK legislation does not prohibit specifically the creation of associations for professional soldiers. However, it is interpreted by the ministerial authorities, who tolerate nonetheless, along with self-help groups and social work and family associations, the existence of some associations defending the moral and material interests of service personnel. This tolerance is conditional on a clear display of the lack of trade union objectives and an express waiver of any means of collective action appropriate to trade unions. The main one of these is the British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF), which includes the active military, reservists and retired military personnel of all categories and all branches of the armed forces, and emphasises on its website that it is not a union...

The President's decision means that France will not be appealing against the ECHR rulings, which will therefore become final.

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