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Germany

Future Defense Minister Reopens Conscription Debate

Germany's defense minister-designate, Franz-Josef Jung, wants to introduce general conscription for the armed forces, paving the way for conflict with his SPD coalition partners, who are against such a plan.

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Equal-opportunity conscription is what the conservatives want

Although conscription currently exists in Germany, it only applies to young men and does not necessarily affect all of them, since the numbers called to service changes annually depending on the need.

The system is however generally considered as being good for the German armed forces and good for German democracy.

Franz Josef Jung

Franz-Josef Jung

But now Franz-Josef Jung, the Christian Democratic (CDU) politician who has been designated Germany's future defense minister, has said a general conscription should be introduced that would apply to all young men and women and would call upon them to serve in either the armed forces or a social institution.

Jung's stance has led to friction with the CDU's grand coalition parters, the Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD parliamentary group's spokesperson for defense issues, Rainer Arnold, has called the suggestions "completely off base."

The union bloc of parties has also expressed its desire to allow the armed forces, or Bundeswehr, to be deployed in the future within the country in the case of a terrorist threat.

Germany's current constitution prohibits such domestic deployments and to institute such a policy, lawmakers would have to amend the country's "Basic Law," something Jung and his union colleagues have said they will pursue.

From Hesse to Berlin

Jung, 56, is a Christian Democrat and comes to the federal government in Berlin from regional politics in the state of Hesse, where he was a close confidante of Premier Roland Koch, a powerful CDU figure.

JAHRESRÜCKBLICK 2003 FEBRUAR DETSCHLAND HESSEN WAHL

Hesse's Premier Roland Koch

Koch ousted the Social Democrats and Greens from power in Hesse in 1999 in an impressive regional triumph for the Christian Democrats, one year after they had been humiliatingly beaten by Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats on the national level.

Koch's regional victory was due largely to the efforts of Jung, a tireless campaigner. Koch rewarded him with a regional ministerial post in the Hessian capital, Wiesbaden. But he resigned over a burgeoning party funding scandal a year later, a move which some local Christian Democrats say ensured Roland Koch's political survival.

Many German senior politicians cut their teeth in regional politics. As defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung will be expected to translate political objectives into an appropriate military response and also get on well with the troops.

"One has to be tough and straightforward, but never personal," he said in describing his leadership style. "There must always an opportunity to talk to one another."

New concept

Jung was a conscript in the Bundeswehr himself in the late 1960s, although much has changed in the meantime. The Bundeswehr need no longer ready itself for the threat of a land-based Soviet invasion, and it is now transforming itself from a Cold War army into a smaller, more flexible force that can be deployed on peacekeeping missions around the world.

Aufbau der Bundeswehr - Kaserne in Andernach

Restructuring the Bundeswehr is on the agenda

This means downsizing and has been painful for some. Many Bundeswehr bases have been closed, hurting local economies and causing frustration among the troops. However Jung's predecessor Peter Struck insists there is no going back.

"One word of advice, it would be a fatal mistake to reverse any decision on the closure of military bases," Struck said.

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