Merkel ‘successor’ sparks conscription debate

Merkel ‘successor’ sparks conscription debate

Seven years after Germany scrapped conscription, the government is debating the reintroduction of some kind of civilian or military national service.

Defence minister Ursula von der Leyen’s spokesman said the discussion was “good and important”, but the proposals were criticised as vague and the general response has been sceptical.  

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ended conscription in 2011, irritating some on the right of her party. The new general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has been touring the country in recent weeks to listen to members and discuss policies.

Calls are mounting for a programme under which young people could choose between a year’s military service and some form of social service.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s apparent successor, said she did not expect a return to conscription but wanted to discuss a “general service obligation” and left open whether it should be compulsory.

She unexpectedly reopened the debate last week when she said it was the main issue she was asked about on her “listening tour” of members. 

There were calls for a referendum after she said was ready to consider the return of national service. 

“There are many ways to serve,” she said, in reference to civilian roles. 

Kramp-Karrenbauer said she was open to “very intense” discussion on the issue. 

But Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the ex-defence minister who scrapped conscription, told Bild that financing duties for up to 700,000 young people per year would carry “exorbitant costs”.

A minority of CDU MPs back military conscription and only the extremist Alternative for Germany fully backs the idea.

A senior regional leader, Michael Kretschmer, the prime minister of Saxony, led calls for a referendum on national service as opinion polls showed more than 55 per cent of Germans supported the reintroduction of conscription.

A spokesman for Merkel said a return to compulsory military service was out of the question.

Germany ended conscription in 2011 in favour of a professional military but has been struggling to find recruits in recent years.

Kretschmer told the media: “National service can help address both the social and defence challenges of our country.” 

Manpower shortages have become so severe in the German military that the ministry of defence said it was considering recruiting citizens from other EU members to fill the gaps.  

A referendum is unlikely given strict restrictions in Germany’s constitution, a poll this month found that 55.6 per cent of voters in favour of conscription, with 39.6 per cent against.

“We live in a wonderful, affluent country,” Paul Ziemak, a CDU youth wing leader, told Bild. “A community year gives the opportunity to give something back and, at the same time, to strengthen national unity.”


Germany’s armed forces are underfunded. Picture credit: AFRC

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