The Federal President is convinced of the concept. You help citizens in emergencies, get out of your own bubble, strengthen public spirit: Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the “Bild am Sonntag” that he was in favor of introducing compulsory service for young men and women.
“I know it won’t be easy, but I would like us to have a debate about mandatory social time,” Steinmeier continued. This should be done in the Bundeswehr, in the care of seniors, in facilities for the disabled or in shelters for the homeless .
It’s a well-known debate. It also flared up after the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, while a mere return to conscription, according to the broad consensus in German politics, is out of the question. But Steinmeier’s proposal for a compulsory social period – from his point of view this can also be shorter than a year – met with a mixed response.
Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) promptly rejected the proposal. “Compulsory social service would mean an encroachment on the individual freedom of every young person,” she explained. “We should continue to give our young people, who have suffered particularly from the corona pandemic and still shown solidarity with the elderly, the freedom to make their own decisions.” Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) argued similarly.
From the CDU, on the other hand: positive feedback. Vice boss Carsten Linnemann has long been in favor of a “social year”. He is pleased that the Federal President is now fomenting a larger debate. “We have to have cross-party discussions about the year of society. There is now a time window in which you can organize majorities,” he told the Tagesspiegel.
Similar to Steinmeier, Linnemann argues with the cohesion of society. “Our world is becoming more and more digital, more and more pluralistic. Private schools are booming, the milieus no longer meet,” he says. “A community year would be a blessing for cohesion.” Linnemann advocates that the entire social sector be involved in addition to the Bundeswehr – care, auxiliary services, church organizations, THW, fire brigade. “Ideally, there should be offers all over Europe.”
But there are also legal concerns about the company year or the compulsory period, as Steinmeier calls it. In a status report from 2016, the scientific service of the Bundestag came to the conclusion that a general compulsory service in Germany would violate the ban on forced labor according to the European Convention on Human Rights.
In any case, an amendment to the Basic Law would be necessary for the introduction – and thus a two-thirds majority in Parliament. “I believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. The need can be justified,” says Linnemann. “It’s about social cohesion and taking responsibility for others.” He wants the year of society to become an official CDU position and to submit an application together with others at the next party conference.
After the negative reactions of the Greens and the FDP, however, it seems unlikely that a cross-party alliance for the model will quickly emerge. The left thinks nothing of it either. “Young people don’t need more duties at all, they need more rights,” tweeted the federal director of the Left, Jörg Schindler. “For example, the right to an apprenticeship, your own apartment from the age of 18, a good salary.”
The debate about mandatory service is likely to come back. In the population, 79 percent support the introduction of a year of service – this was reported a few days ago by the “Focus” with reference to the opinion research institute Kantar.