The idea itself is not new to Germany: from 1956 to 2011, the country had conscription, a mandatory service for all males. Usually, they could either serve in the military or choose alternative service.
The hard right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party has had the national service in its program since its formation as a political force, but the CDU's interest in the idea is relatively new.
Return to Old Ways
Earlier this month, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested a one-year mandatory service for young men and women. According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, who collected proposals from CDU members, many would like to see asylum seekers and refugees of legal age included in the draft. The CDU general secretary said a year of service could help refugees better integrate in the German society.
"The foot solders of the CDU, the party members, have been consulted – for once – and they come up with the conscription request. No surprise: people are not too worried about young Germans. They want the young migrants, legalized by Merkel, to learn about Germany and if they become Germans, to be ready to defend the country, like everybody else," Joerg Meuthen, a member of the European Parliament and AfD co-leader, told Sputnik.
According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), about 1,390,000 asylum requests were registered in Germany between January 2015 and late March 2018.
According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 16.2 percent of asylum applicants registered in Germany in January-July 2018 were between 18 and 25 years old, and 10.8 percent were between 25 and 30 years old. In each of these age groups, over 60 percent were men.
Threats From Within
The CDU turned to the idea amid turmoil: the party has recently seen some tension in its relationship with its sister party, the CSU, over migration. In early July, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU, was close to resigning over his calls for a harsher stance on migration.
Merkel has been facing criticism not only from its alliance partner, but from the United States as well. US President Donald Trump has been critical of Germany over its trade policies and purchase of Russian gas, but, perhaps, most vociferously, of its failure to spend the required 2 percent of its GDP on defense.
Germany has been lagging behind many of its NATO allies, with only 1.2 percent of GDP spent on defense.
The CDU may be turning to the national service idea as a populist measure to get back some of the voters the party had lost, Meuthen argued.
The government demonstrated its lack of enthusiasm for the idea early on. Ulrike Demmer, spokeswoman for the German government, said in early August that the return to the conscription was not "up for discussion." German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said it would be very hard to integrate new recruits into a professional army.