German army mulls foreign recruits
The news that Germany’s Bundeswehr is considering taking recruits from other EU nationalities has triggered domestic concerns, leading the army’s Inspector General Eberhard Zorn (pictured) to say the authorities were mainly talking about “doctors and IT specialists” rather than frontline troops.
Zorn, Germany’s top soldier, is hoping to fill thousands of unfilled vacancies.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen already suggested relaxing the recruitment rules in a “white book” published early last year.
She said the army was now made up of 12 per cent women and this year one-third of officer applicants were female.
She said Bundeswehr numbers had risen by 3.6 per cent since 2016, to around 182,000 troops.
Germany’s armed forces have been beset by years of under-investment.
By 2025, Germany, in the face of criticism from Donald Trump, intends to meet its Nato obligation to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on its military, up from an estimated 1.3 per cent with numbers rising to 203,000.
Since national service was axed in 2011, the Bundeswehr has struggled with recruitment, particularly in specialist occupations such as medicine and cybersecurity.
The issue is sensitive in Germany. It would involve law changes and open questions about the language barrier and ensuring the loyalty of foreign personnel to the German flag.
Under post-1945 laws, soldiers have to be German.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary defence commissioner, said relaxing the rules would represent “a kind of normality” as there were already many soldiers of immigrant descent or dual nationality already in uniform.
The Nazi armed forces during the Second World War were a highly international force.
The military is said to be particularly keen on Italian, Polish and Romanian recruits.
According to the Funke group, more than 900 foreigners already work for the Bundeswehr in civilian roles.
Many countries have foreign nationals in their ranks. EU citizens aged between 18 and 34 have been allowed to join Belgium’s armed forces since 2004 and the Danes allow foreigners to sign up if they live in Denmark and can speak Danish.
Ireland recruits from the European Economic Area, which also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and other nationals living in Ireland for three years.
The French Foreign Legion remains unique as the oldest foreign-only military unit still active. Founded in 1831, foreigners are still commanded by French officers and can apply for citizenship after three years in uniform.
Spain has allowed foreigners into its military since 2002, when it began recruiting citizens from ex-colonies, although Morocco was excluded despite the northern areas once being a Spanish colony.
Left, Inspector General Eberhard Zorn. Germany’s armed forces have been underfunded for decades. Picture credit: Wikimedia