The German government has shut down talk of a return to the draft

It will be all volunteers for now.
It will be all volunteers for now.
Image: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
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With the German army struggling for new recruits and low on equipment, the woman many view as Angela Merkel’s successor is pushing to restart compulsory national service.

It won’t happen any time soon, it seems.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, wants young men and women to spend a year in the army or doing community service. She said last week that she’ll be pushing ideas for how conscription could look at the CDU’s party conference later this year, noting that national service could encourage social cohesion.

Today (Aug. 6) the federal government’s deputy spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said a return to compulsory military service—abolished in 2011—was not up for discussion (link in German) and was backed up by the Conservative defense minister Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

The military-service debate comes at a time when Merkel’s conservatives are trying to win back voters from the right-wing AfD party—and some 56% of Germans, and more than 60% of AfD voters, are in favor of a return to the draft.

The proposal to revive the draft incited a fiery backlash (link in German), not only among the more left-leaning parties, but also from Merkel’s former defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who helped abolish conscription in 2011. “The constitution does not provide for obligatory, i.e forced labor,” Zu Guttenberg said.

Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner slammed conscription as a “deprivation of liberty…and waste of life.” Green party defense expert Tobias Lindner told NDR (paywall) radio that the conservatives were right in claiming Germany faced problems with staff shortages in the care industry, with social cohesion, and with the armed forces, “but these can not be fixed with compulsory service.”

National service is being brought back in several European countries. Sweden last year announced it would reintroduce the draft as it feared growing aggression from Russia. In June, France said it wanted to bring back a form of national service to combat discontent—and a potential slide towards populism—among its high numbers of unemployed youth.