Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, representing Angela Merkel’s party Christian Democratic Union, wants to let foreigners, particularly, Poles, Italians and Romanians, join the German military, Der Spiegel reports, citing an interior ministry concept paper. The paper says that there’s a “quantitative potential" for the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) among young nationals of these three countries.
With about 255,000 Poles, 185,000 Italians and 155,000 Romanians, aged between 18 and 40, living in Germany, only 10 percent of them, possibly showing an interest in military service, could ensure 50,000 possible applicants.
At the same time, the Bundeswehr's general inspector Eberhard Zorn has told the German Funke Mediengruppe that recruiting EU citizens was "one option”, pointing out that this practice could be applied to doctors or IT-specialists. According to the commander, in times of shortages of skilled workers, the military should "look in all directions and take care of the right new generation".
While the German military reportedly wants to narrow down the group of potential recruits to EU citizens who have already lived in Germany for several years and speak fluent German, neighbouring countries are said to share fears over losing potential soldiers due to better salaries.
According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German Defence Ministry had already run the idea by defence attachés in the EU, which "led to very different results" as the Eastern Europeans voiced concerns over "significant negative impact on their own staffing ".
Commenting on the report, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told Der Spiegel that military service is strongly connected with nationality. He warned that if Germany had introduced such legislation without first consulting Poland, it would not be good.
The number of Bundeswehr soldiers is gradually climbing, according to von der Leyen, cited by the newspaper Rheinische Post. The number of armed forces’ personnel is expected to have reached 182,000 by the end of this year, which is 2,500 more than a year ago and exceeds the 2016 low point by 6,500.
The minister told the outlet that the number of Bundeswehr soldiers should depend on the security situation and the valid tasks for the troops, although the preliminary staffing plans suggest that the number of soldiers should be 203,000 by 2025, including those filling newly created positions in cybersecurity or European Defence Union projects.
Besides debates around a shortage of personnel, with 21,000 junior officers and NCO (non-commission officer) positions currently unfilled, the state of the German military has been the subject of controversy amid regular reports of equipment and supply problems, and complaints of underfunding. In October, German media reported that none of the newly-developed assault rifles expected to replace the G36 rifle met the army's expectations.
Before that, problems were reported with the military's existing equipment, including its Leopard 2 main battle tanks, Tornado combat jets, submarines, and other equipment, much of which has been described as being in a poor and "outdated" state.