Germany weighs allowing foreign citizens into the army – DW – 01/22/2024

Germany weighs allowing foreign citizens into the army

A senior lawmaker has told DW a potential scheme could include people not just from current EU members, but also from candidate countries, and provide a quicker path to German citizenship.

A proposal to allow foreign citizens to serve in the German army, known as the Bundeswehr, could be extended to Europeans in countries outside of the EU, a senior German lawmaker told DW.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) member Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs the German parliament’s defense committee, said that she can envision opening up the German army to candidates from across the continent.

She said candidates could initially come from the EU as well as countries like the United Kingdom, a former EU member, as well as neutral Switzerland. But there is also scope beyond these countries.

“I think that Europe also needs to be considered further, namely those who may live in European states but which do not yet belong to the European Union, but which may well be in accession negotiations,” Strack-Zimmermann said in an interview with DW’s Nina Haase.

“I don’t want to tie it down like that, because it has to be legally scrutinized,” she added.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius put forward the idea of welcoming non-Germans to enlist in order to combat a drastic shorting in personnel.

In addition to Pistorius from the Social Democrats, the idea has also received support from lawmakers belonging to one of its two coalition partners, the FDP plus the opposition Christian Democratic Union.

However, questions remain about how such a plan would be implemented.

Two German soldiers firing at a target
The German government has set a goal for the Bundeswehr to be war-ready in eight yearsImage: Thomas Koehler/photothek/picture alliance

‘Bolder, bigger and more European’

Strack-Zimmermann called on lawmakers to “think a little bolder and bigger and more European.”

“We are already working towards the goal of having a European army in the long term,” she said.

She pointed to Germany’s army cooperating closely with its counterparts in France and the Netherlands.

“And that’s why in the long term, if you think in a European way, it can no longer matter what nationality a soldier has within this European framework,” Strack-Zimmermann told DW.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann standing near two German soldiers
German lawmaker Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann has a long-term vision for a pan-European armyImage: Jens Krick/Flashpic/picture alliance

Beyond Europe, Strack-Zimmermann said the ability to enlist in the German army could even be “extended to NATO” but this would be dependent on political developments in individual member countries like the United States and Canada.

A spokesperson for the Bundeswehr told DW that the proposal “is not about filling gaps with foreigners” but rather an open discussion led by Pistorius about the future of the armed forces.

“Allowing EU citizens to serve in the armed forces is not a new issue,” the spokesperson added.

“There are actually exceptional cases for soldiers when there is an official need.”

An opportunity for residents in Germany

Allowing people from other nationalities to serve in the Bundeswehr would also open the door for many people who were born and raised in Germany but who do not hold German citizenship, Strack-Zimmermann noted.

“For example, here in Düsseldorf,” she said, referring to her hometown.

“There are more than 10,000 Greeks living here in Düsseldorf, so many young people in the second or third generation who — although they have been in Germany for so long — still have a Greek passport. Because of emotion, because of whatever reason, it’s none of our business.”

“If someone says, ‘I can imagine myself joining the Bundeswehr,’ then I think we should look into this possibility,” she said.

Bundeswher recruits swearing an oath
Some individuals who have lived in Germany for a long time cannot enlist in the Bundeswehr because they are not German citizensImage: Christophe Gateau/dpa/picture alliance

“And if they want a German passport having served in the army, then we should look at the possibility that they get one quicker than others.”

War-ready within eight years

Germany’s defense minister said the army should be ready for war within five-to-eight years.

Strack-Zimmermann believes boosting army personnel to the required level is feasible within this period.

“But I’m leaning more towards five years rather than eight years,” she added. “That means there’s quite a bit of pressure, there’s no question about that.”

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, European countries have had to rethink their defense strategies.

“The fact that the Baltic states are also thinking about really building bulwarks on the Russian border shows how serious this is,” she added.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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