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Germany

Germany to suspend compulsory military service

Leaders of Germany’s ruling coalition have agreed to suspend military conscription as of July 2011. The decision marks a profound change for Germany, where compulsory service was re-introduced 50 years ago.

Recruits in front of German flag

Soon young men will no longer have to swear their loyalty

Senior officials in Germany's coalition government have agreed to suspend military conscription as of July 1, 2011. Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg's proposal was accepted during closed-door talks in Berlin on Thursday evening.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) have both in principle approved abolishing the draft at party conferences in the past six weeks. Their other coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, had included stopping conscription in their manifesto during last year's general election.

Sources taking part in the meeting said the next step would be for Merkel's cabinet to approve a draft bill that could be put to parliament; this is expected to happen on December 15.

Troop reduction

German Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg

Defense Minister Guttenberg says the change will save money

Guttenberg's plan would also see troop numbers reduced the current level of 250,000 soldiers to 185,000. Of these, 170,000 would be professional soldiers, with volunteers making up the remainder.

With his reform, Guttenberg hopes to save up to 8.3 billion euros.

However, the suspension of conscription could create some new problems; for instance, the alternative community service offered to those who refuse military service would also be dropped. Social and welfare institutions fear that this could lead to a lack of personnel, as in the past they have relied heavily on youngsters who want to avoid military service.

The suspension also means that student numbers are likely to climb, posing problems for universities.

Compulsory military service in Germany lasts for six months and only applies to young men. Women are allowed to join the German army, the Bundeswehr, either as professionals or volunteers, but are not obliged to do so.

Author: Timothy Jones (AP, dpa)
Editor: Mark Hallam

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