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Germany

Germany considers year of national service for young people and migrants

‘If refugees complete such a year, which could be voluntary or mandatory, it would help to integrate them into the country and society’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 9:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 10:06pm

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party is floating the idea of a new form of compulsory national service in Germany for all young people and migrants.

For over 50 years, all German men were obliged to spend a year in the army after leaving school. Those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, volunteered their time in community service instead.

The programme was abolished in 2011, but the belief that young people should dedicate a year to national service persists in many conservative circles. Now, the CDU leadership, keen to reunite the party around traditional core values, is revisiting the concept.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU general secretary, suggested earlier this month that all young men and women should complete a compulsory “service year”. The plan, if implemented, would also apply to all adult asylum seekers and refugees, she added.

The programme would see some young people join the military, the fire service, or help with disaster relief. The CDU hope others would choose to volunteer as care workers, thereby helping address chronic staff shortages in care homes and hospices.

The proposal came after Kramp-Karrenbauer – among the favourites to succeed Merkel as the head of the party – conducted a “listening tour” of the CDU grassroots, gathering ideas for a new manifesto to be presented at the upcoming party conference in December. “Many CDU members mentioned reintroducing the draft or general compulsory service,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Funke Mediengruppe news group on Saturday, adding that she still remained undecided. She also explained the suggestions she had heard often mentioned including migrants, something she thought “worth considering”.

“If refugees complete such a year, which could be voluntary or mandatory, it would help to integrate them into the country and society,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “It would also increase the acceptance of refugees among the population.”

Her comments were immediately dismissed as “populist,” by the Social Democrats and the proposal has so far found no support from the Greens, the left-wing Die Linke, or the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Only the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) support reintroducing military service.

Meanwhile, Ursula van der Leyen, the German defence minister, has categorically rejected the idea that military service would return in its previous form – mostly because the army isn’t equipped to deal with the amount of fresh faced recruits.

The German military, the Bundeswehr, currently gets enough volunteer foot soldiers but is lacking specialised soldiers willing to invest in a long-term career with the armed forces. Still, the idea of a compulsory “service year” has a long way to go. It’s possible it would require a change to Germany’s constitution, which forbids all forms of forced labour.

But for the CDU, the renewed debate has had the desired effect of rallying the party around a common cause. If the idea is adopted as policy, the party hope it will have a similar effect on the electorate.

A compulsory service year would “strengthen social cohesion in Germany,” CDU’s minister president of Saarland Tobias Hans told newspaper Bild am Sonntag. German youth get free school education and enjoy high social standards, he added. The nation “should be able to expect young people to give something back to their country,” in return.