No, the Federal President does not use the word “compulsory service”. At Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the whole thing is now called “obligatory social time”. That sounds much more social democratic and pleasing, but is otherwise similar to the 2018 good proposal by the then CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

You could also call such a program a compulsory social year, or simply: a social year. What remains is the same duty for everyone – and for some this seems the maximum provocation.

The main difference to earlier debates is that many people now like Steinmeier’s idea. According to a representative survey by the Hamburg Opaschowski Institute for Future Research, 66 percent of those questioned support such a service.

To interpret this as an educational measure of the “boomers” for a youth who is all too pro-protest – keywords: chain, stick, occupy – does not do justice to the situation. The idea has also been positively received by young people: among respondents aged 14 to 24, the proportion of supporters rose from 22 to 59 percent, almost tripling compared to 2019. The institute sees Ukraine- war and pandemic.

The Federal President is therefore stimulating an old debate, skilfully placed at the right time. Steinmeier is cautious in the wording. “It’s about the question of whether it wouldn’t be good for our country if women and men put themselves at the service of society for a certain period of time,” he says. Whether that has to be right after school, Steinmeier left just as open as the length of the service.

The deployment sites could also be flexible: the Bundeswehr could be part of it, just like the care of the disabled or the homeless. The Federal President opens a debate room, with the majority behind him. The contradiction from politics and media is sharp.

This suggestion is cynical, they say. Steinmeier is accused of populism. The pro-arguments for the service, which Steinmeier also cites, have been mentioned many times: more community spirit, helpfulness, reducing prejudice and social permeability. That’s why it’s worth taking a look at the criticism. She comes mainly from the liberal and left-green corner, but sounds almost identical.

Unsurprisingly, Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann sees the compulsory service as a “serious encroachment on freedom” and that there is a shortage of skilled workers anyway. The FDP politician writes: “There belong young people in training, studies or work, not in occupational therapy.”

[If you want all the latest news live on your phone, we recommend our app, which you can download here for Apple and Android devices.]

On the one hand, it is noteworthy that for the Liberal, market maturity is apparently a question of quick availability, not of the possibly better qualification of the worker. The disqualification of the service as “occupational therapy” would have to be ignored as a deliberate exaggeration if the view were not so widespread.

People are now acting as if the better social skills that are often cited as a reason for community service or a compulsory year are a kind of personal impression. According to the motto: Anyone who has done good community service will like the idea. Anyone who has had bad experiences thinks they are bad.

The socio-scientific study situation on the consequences of compulsory social services is quite clear: According to a study just published by the Vienna University of Economics and Business, 70 percent of the participants have developed social skills, more resilience and tolerance through their civilian service.

Many young men are in contact with social professions for the first time through community service. In a multi-year study by the German Ministry of Education from 2011, the result is similar.

A 1996 study highlighted how the service confronted young men about their gender identity at the time. Traditionally male stereotypes were loosened, and work in areas that had previously had a female connotation, such as care, in kindergartens or facilities for the disabled, was only conceivable at all.

Sounds like a topic for the Greens and the Left, who (want to) introduce quotas and obligations everywhere in order to achieve more equality, and have language regulations in mind in order to speak more fairly. Suddenly, however, there was talk of “forced service”, of restrictions on freedom.

[More from the capital. More from the region. More about politics and society. And more useful for you. This is now available with Tagesspiegel Plus: Test it now for 30 days free of charge.]

It is hardly clear why the idea that it is nothing more than “committing” to more public spirit at this point in time should be so absurd. Yes, duties can be challenging if you have to give something in return (at least initially), but they constitute community just as much as the rights of the individual.

Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus, Greens, now cites the special burdens on young people in the pandemic in addition to the intervention in freedom. She suffered particularly to protect the elderly. On the one hand, Paus is right. A widely accepted proposal for a social year would have to take this into account.

In Israel, for example, military service does not have to be completed directly after school, but between the ages of 18 and 29. A similar regulation could possibly be found for a German social year. However, even the qualification can be questioned as a further burden: many young people would obviously like to do such a service, it would not only bring experience, but also a securely financed year for orientation in times of disorientation.

Yes, there are already opportunities to get involved after school with the Federal Volunteer Service. That also leads to Paus. However, it is often primarily those who are already involved who take care of voluntary service. A flexible compulsory year would not be a disadvantage for them. Many others, on the other hand, could suddenly only afford such a year, because the state would be obliged (here you can see the reciprocity of the model) to finance it equally well for everyone.

So far there is only 150 euros on average per month. Far too little to survive. The previous model only brings great freedom of choice for the well-off – that too should explain part of the rejection of the mandatory alternative. The individualism of this time shines through and exactly that lone fighter mentality that is made jointly responsible for the segregation of society in other places.

Of course, no one wants community service back now. It must not happen that young people are mainly employed in care during their social year and are only used as low-wage workers. The year of service must offer genuine freedom of choice, and of course it must apply to all genders. When it comes to age, a flexible regulation of up to 30 years would be conceivable.

Security, health and above all climate crises cannot be solved individually. No matter how fast you climb the first rung of the career ladder. Almost no matter how steep you climb. Common sense, that might help.