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Germany

Dispute Over Military Service Escalates

Germany's Social Democrats will begin talks on abolishing compulsory military service, a German newspaper reported on Sunday. The future of the draft is a divisive issue for the SPD and its coalition partner, the Greens.

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Critics of the draft say the German military must move with the times

German Defence Minister Peter Struck is to open talks on military service among the SPD leadership next weekend, with a view to reaching a final decision on whether to abolish the draft by fall 2005, the newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported.

Struck and other SPD leaders, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, have said they opposed abolishing compulsory military service for young men.

"I believe in military service, and I'm sure that the majority in the SPD does as well," Struck told the paper.

Claudia Roth für Frauengalerie

Greens leader Claudia Roth is pushing for abolition of compulsory military service

But the SPD's coalition partner, the Green party, has long been campaigning to get rid of compulsory military service. Greens leader Claudia Roth (photo) wrote in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany no longer needs a mass army to defend itself.

In the current coalition agreement, the government has committed to reviewing the issue within this legislative period.

Base closures

Struck says that abolishing military service in favor of a professional army will have far-reaching consequences. He recently announced plans to close 105 military bases as part of the Bundeswehr's reform plans, and said that without the regular influx of young conscripts who number around 415,000 per year, a further 60 bases could face closure.

Social Democrat Reinhold Robbe, head of the parliamentary committee on defence, said scrapping military service would also lead to increased costs of between €3.5 and 7 billion ($4.5 and 9 billion).

Younger SPD members, though, are increasingly against military service, and have published a petition on the Internet calling for its abolition. Analysts predict that should the SPD oversee the end of conscription, it could be an important vote winner for the party in the 2006 general election.

Court decision possible

The SPD's expert on foreign policy, Gernot Erler, predicted that the issue is likely to be decided by Germany's constitutional court. But SPD paliamentartian Andreas Weigel said that would be a mistake.

" We should not wait until a court verdict forces us to change. Instead, we should begin the discussion process now," Weigel said. "And at the end of that discussion, I'm convinced that military service will have to go."

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