Germany to shorten military and substitute service

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After the German federal elections in October, the new German governing coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats (Liberals) announced that military service will be shortened to six months from 1 January 2011 on, and conscription will be reviewed. This means that substitute civilian service for conscientious objectors will also be reduced to six months. At present, both services are nine months long.
It seems, this reduction now leads to protests from those organisations providing placements for substitute civilian service. The General Secretary of the Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband, Ulrich Schneider, said in a statement: "The shortening of substitute service to six months means the beginning of the end of substitute service generally, because we are then no longer able to use those in substitute service in a meaningful way". He went on to say that if this is the case, his organisation will no longer provide places for substitute service.

Deutsche Welle reported on 4 November that many of the organisations that provide social services in Germany are worried about the German government's plans to cut military conscription to six months from nine months. They rely on the 70,000 young men who opt out of service with the armed forces in favor of doing substitute service for non-profit organisations across Germany.

Ulrike Mascher, head of the largest German social service provider, Sozialverband VDK, with 1.4 million members, said costs would likely skyrocket when the number of people doing substitute service in lieu of military service drops. She fears services will be cut if donors or the German state do not provide more money.

"All organizations offering care will have to adapt to the change. Costs will increase and we are going to need more money", she said according to Deutsche Welle.

The Red Cross, which relies on a large army of young men doing substitute service, has also begun rethinking its employment strategy in view of the shortened conscription period. "It won't be worth training them anymore if they only have to serve for six months," said Gabrielle Thivissen, head of administration at the Red Cross in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia to Deutsche Welle.

These complaints highlight a general problem of the German system of conscription and conscientious objection. The high number of conscientious objectors performing substitute service form the cheap work force of many social and health care services, which therefore has become reliant on conscription and conscientious objection to military service.

Sources: Frankfurter Rundschau: Wehrdienst wird verkürzt, 22 October 2009; Weser-Ems-Business-On.de: Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband steigt aus Zivildienst aus, 3 November 2009; Deutsche Welle: Social service providers fear military conscription cuts, 4 November 2009

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