Germany’s Armed Forces are looking into the possibility of removing the German nationality prerequisite for fixed-term and professional soldiers, suggesting that hat other EU citizens could help fill its ranks, General Eberhard Zorn, the Bundeswehr’s general inspector said on December 27th.
He said that 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,” similarly to a Defense Ministry strategy paper of 2016.
The initiative comes after the German Government adopted a draft bill that would allow Germany to admit skilled workers from around the work.
RT reported that the initiative also received backing from the German parliament. Hans-Peter Bartels, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, said that recruitment of EU citizens would be “a kind of normality” as the Bundeswehr already has “many soldiers with migratory backgrounds or dual-nationality citizens” within its ranks.
Furthermore, an estimated 530,000 EU citizens aged between 18 and 30 currently live in Germany, and these people could form a significant additional recruitment pool for the German Army.
The notion to recruit EU citizens to the German Army ranks is not a new one, in 2017, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen already proposed the idea. Furthermore, she once more proposed the idea in July 2018.
There was some voices of opposition as well, Social Democratic Party (SPD) defense expert Karl-Heinz Brunner said that “If citizens of other countries are accepted, without the promise of getting a German passport, the Bundeswehr risks becoming a mercenary army.”
Christian Social Union (CSU) defense spokesman Florian Hahn also raised concerns about ensuring a high level of trust between soldiers.
“Using the framework of European liberalism, a modern model could be developed here. However, a certain level of trust with every solider must be guaranteed,” he said.
However, Alternative for Germany (AfD) co-leader Alice Weidel sharply criticized the proposal and blamed staffing shortages elsewhere.
“The policy has lost all common sense. The reason for staffing problems is the suspension of compulsory military service.”
Compulsory military service was abolished in 2011, making the military service voluntary in Germany. In 2017, 21,000 posts including officer positions were left vacant.
The Bundeswehr still plans to further increase its numbers, which should reach 203,000 by 2025. Defense Minister von der Leyen boasted that uniformed soldier numbers would reach 182,000 by the end of 2018, which is 6,500 more compared to 2016’s low point.
Allowing non-nationals to enroll into the army wouldn’t be something uncommon as smaller countries from the EU have been doing it for a while.
Some notable examples are: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and Ireland.
EU citizens aged between 18 and 34 have been allowed to join Belgium’s armed forces since 2004.
The Danish military allows foreign recruits, as long as they are already living in Denmark and can speak Danish.
Luxembourg also allows EU citizens to join, as long as they have been living in the country for three years and are aged between 18 and 24.
Ireland allows any citizen of the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) to join its military, while other foreign nationals can also apply as long as they have been living in Ireland for three years.
The UK has a tradition of sourcing military recruits from its former colonies, now called the Commonwealth. Facing similar problems to Germany, the British Ministry of Defense in November announced that it would no longer require Commonwealth nationals to have lived in the UK for five years. No other foreigners, including EU nationals are allowed.
France has its French Foreign Legion, it’s oldest foreigner-only military branch that is still active. It was founded in 1831 and foreigners are led by French officers, the recruits can apply for French citizenship after three years of service.
Spain has allowed foreigners into its service since 2002, when it began recruiting citizens from ex-colonies. Initially, the quota of foreign personnel was limited to 2%, though that was later raised to 9%.
Russia also loosened the rules on foreigners joining the military. Russia has also made the army a fast-tracked route to citizenship: non-Russians who speak Russian can sign five-year contracts to join the military, with the option of applying for citizenship after three years.
The US allows permanent residents and Green Card holders to apply to the military, a path that is also seen a fast-track to citizenship. The US military also has regulations allowing citizens of small Pacific nations like Micronesia and Palau to join up.