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Politicians Call for Compulsory Social Year

Premiers from several German states said they support introducing a mandatory public service year as proposals to end the draft would also do away with civilian national service the health sector has come to rely on.


Should all young Germans do a year of public service?

Across party lines, political leaders on Sunday suggested to consider a social year for men and women. “I think this warrants consideration as it would strengthen a sense of community and societal responsibility,” Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic Premier of Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine-Westphalia, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Wolfgang Böhmer Sachsen-Anhalt

Wolfgang Böhmer

Wolfgang Böhmer (photo), who serves as premier of Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany, agreed. “I am in favor of a social year as it is an instrument to equally spread the burden within a generation,” Böhmer, a Christian Democrat, said.

So far, only a percentage of young men have to join the military for nine months or work in the health care or social sector instead. About 90,000 Germans decide to do community service each year.

Ending draft would deal blow to health sector

Many hospitals and senior citizens’ homes depend on these young men, who receive salaries far below those of professional workers. Charitable organizations have already expressed fears that abolishing the draft would have “catastrophic” consequences in the social sector.

Some services, such as going for walks with or reading to old people and doing office work might have to be abolished completely, Joachim Kendelbacher from the Workers’ Welfare organization, which employs about 6,000 national service people, recently told Deutsche Welle.

Bundeswehr Rekruten

Military recruits.

While German Defense Minister Peter Struck has so far opposed ending the draft, a phase-out of the system by 2008 is becoming more and more likely: Last week, Berlin’s coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens announced that it would seriously consider abolishing the draft.

“I think it would be great if the government could come to a decision this year,” Greens leader Reinhard Bütikofer told Bild am Sonntag.

Constitution prohibits mandatory service year so far

According to a survey by Bild am Sonntag and RTL television, 70 percent of Germans would support a compulsory social year, with only 27 percent opposing the idea. Among people aged 30 or younger, 61 percent said they were in favor of introducing a mandatory public service.

But supporters of a compulsory social year still have to deal with Germany’s constitution, which forbids replacing conscription with another kind of mandatory service. North-Rhine-Westphalia’s Peer Steinbrück therefore cautioned that the legal possibilities to introduce a year of social service would have to be checked first. “In any case, the (current) national service should not be abolished without some kind of replacement,” Steinbrück said.

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