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Germany

Volunteer initiative aims to plug gap caused by end of conscription

The German government has announced a new volunteer service that is designed to partly replace the 90,000 men fulfilling civilian service, the alternative to military conscription, which is set to end in mid-2011.

man serving food to elderly ladies

Roughly 90,000 men are currently on civilian service in Germany

The German government on Thursday announced plans for a new volunteer service, aimed at partly replacing the 90,000 men undertaking community service as part of Germany's mandatory national service.

German men currently need to serve either six months in the military, or nine months in civilian service, a practice that is set to be abolished from mid-2011, subject to approval by parliament.

"The new volunteer service is an invitation for people of all ages to serve the community," German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder said in a statement.

"I'm confident that many people - not just young people - will take up this offer," she added.

man feeding elderly patient

The end of conscription means a shortage of social workers

Expected shortage

The government plans to invest 350 million euros ($477 million) a year to fund 30,000 volunteers from July 2011. Unlike the mandatory service, which is only served by young men after finishing school, the new service is open to men and women of all ages.

It is designed to complement two existing volunteer schemes that offer 35,000 placements every year in either social or environmental services.

Under the proposed scheme, volunteers would receive pocket money of 324 euros a month in western Germany and 273 euros in eastern Germany. They would also get their accommodation and social security contributions paid for.

To make the service more attractive, the government is also mulling plans to have the voluntary social service count towards pension contributions.

Germany is expected to face a shortfall of carers, social and environmental workers from next year, after the government announced it would abolish national service as part of a revamp of Germany's military, the Bundeswehr.

Conscription was introduced in West Germany in 1957, as part of the rearmament of the country after World War II. In 1961, the alternative civilian service was launched for conscientious objectors. The former East Germany made military service compulsory in 1962.

Author: Nicole Goebel (dpa, Reuters, KNA)

Editor: Rob Turner

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