Admission into the Legion of Honor is based on clear principles and well-established procedures. However, it rewards an abstract, highly subjective, multifaceted and still unifying notion: "outstanding merit".
Conditions of eligibility
To enter the Order of the Legion of Honor, two prerequisites must be fulfilled:
- Nationality : only French citizens may be admitted into the Order.
Foreigners can be distinguished in the Order of the Legion of Honor, but they are not members.
- Good repute: future holders of the Legion of Honor must have clean criminal records and good character. An inquiry is conducted to ensure the admissibility of candidates on these two points.
According to the code, "the Legion of Honor is the reward for outstanding merit acquired in the service of the nation in a civilian or military capacity."
What is "outstanding merit"? There is no theoretical definition or exhaustive list. It is the mission of the Council of the Order to judge, based on the career path provided and the precedents of the Order, whether or not there is outstanding merit.
Merit takes on the most diverse forms, since every new case involves assessing the action of a human being, the richness of a life path, an act of courage or generosity, or an action in support of the national ideals.
Every proposed member is therefore evaluated within his or her field of activity.
Nevertheless, a series of commonly accepted criteria are taken into account, backed by two centuries of precedents:
- Eminence of services: the ability to show quality of services, of actions, or of demanding and measurable commitments.
- The common benefit: having served the good of the nation rather than solely one’s own interest (e.g. creating jobs, developing education, supporting the underprivileged, technological or medical innovation, artistic creativity).
- Public awareness of merits: recognition for one’s merits, standing out as a role model of civic engagement for fellow citizens, participating in France's renown abroad (whether through military intervention, athletic feats or economic influence).
- Length of service: a minimum of 20 years of activity is required to enter the Order of the Legion of Honor.
Promotion to a higher rank shall be granted if the Legion of Honor holder has demonstrated new merit, and after a minimum number of years:
From the rank of Knight to that of Officer: eight years
From the rank of Officer to that of Commander: five years
From the rank of Commander to the title of Grand Officer: three years
From the title of Grand Officer to that of Grand Cross: three years
Every year, some twenty Legion of Honor awards depart from these general rules. These awards may be granted in exceptional circumstances, within very strict limits, to reward deserving persons without delay.
These include persons who risked their lives in the line of duty, such as military personnel killed or wounded while serving, firefighters, rescuers and police officers.
Some careers unfold over very short periods of time, and exceptional achievements can warrant an exception to the rule of 20 years of service. This applies for instance to Olympic gold medalists, who are rewarded for contributing to the fame of France around the world.
- Foreigners may be decorated with the Legion of Honor if they have rendered services (e.g. cultural or economic) to France or supported causes defended by France, such as human rights, freedom of the press, or humanitarian action.
- State visits are also an occasion for conferring the Legion of Honor upon official figures, pursuant to diplomatic reciprocity and thereby supporting the foreign policy of France.