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Bundeswehr floats idea of recruiting EU citizens

December 27, 2018

Recruiting citizens of other EU nations to Germany's Bundeswehr has been floated by its top officer Eberhard Zorn as an "option." They would fill vacancies in posts such as military doctors and IT specialists.

Photo of German army medic
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Warmuth

Germany's armed forces appeared ready to break with its German nationality prerequisite for fixed-term and professional soldiers Thursday by suggesting that other EU citizens could help fill its thinned ranks.

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Germany's draft of young adults was dropped in 2011, prompting the six-part Bundeswehr, including navy, air force and now cyber divisions, to launch elaborate recruitment campaigns.

Read more: German army under scrutiny for recruiting teenagers

Zorn, the Bundeswehr's general inspector, told newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe (media group) based in Essen that, given personnel shortages, Germany "must look in all directions and seek suitable trainees."

Recruiting EU citizens was "one option," Zorn said. "We are talking here, for example, about doctors or IT-specialists," echoing a Defense Ministry strategy paper of 2016.

Photo of Eberhard Zorn
Eberhard Zorn previously headed personnel in the Defense MinistryImage: imago/Becker&Bredel

His initiative comes just a week after Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet adopted draft legislation on admitting foreign skilled labor amid Germany's lingering debate over migration versus restricted borders.

EU partners consulted

Other EU governments had already been consulted by Berlin, reported the Funke newspapers, eliciting reticence, especially in eastern Europe, and notably Bulgaria, over the prospect of its educated young being enticed into migrating to Germany.

Already living in Germany are 530,000 citizens of EU member states within the 18-to-30-year age bracket, who would represent a recruitment pool.

Social Democrat (SPD) Hans-Peter Bartels, who reports to parliament on soldiers' working conditions, said recruitment of EU citizens would be "a kind of normality" because the Bundeswehr's ranks already included "many soldiers with migratory backgrounds or dual-nationality citizens."

German nationality presumed

Paragraph 37 of Germany's Military Act (Soldatengesetz) — originating from 1956 when the World War Two Allies allowed a new start — still requires recruits to be German citizens and to swear allegiance to Germany's "free democratic constitutional order."

Uniformed soldier numbers had reached 182,000 late this year, said Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, with female soldiers at 12 percent — a record high.

Ursula von der Leyen among navy personnel on parade
The Bundeswehr has seen a gain of 6,500 since 2016, says von der LeyenImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

That total represented a gain of 6,500 compared to 2016 's low point, she added in her statement released Thursday.

'Citizens in uniform'

Germany's Bundeswehr is portrayed as a "citizens-in-uniform" entity largely under the direction of parliament, especially over foreign deployments, mostly under NATO or UN auspices.

Alongside uniformed personnel, the Bundeswehr also has more than 60,000 civilian employees and lays claim to offering recruits more than 1,000 vocations and career paths.

ipj/kms (dpa, AFP)