Lawmakers propose national service for Germans, migrants
Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (known as CDU) has proposed a new form of compulsory national service in Germany for all young people and migrants, though the leader has rejected the idea.
More than 1 million refugees and asylum-seekers have come to Germany since the height of the European Union migration crisis in 2015, causing a public and political backlash.
The proposal would see some young people join the military, the fire service, or help with disaster relief. The CDU hopes others would choose to volunteer as care workers, thereby helping address chronic staff shortages in care homes and hospices.
The proposal has come under heavy criticism by German opposition parties that say it would be a populist move.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU general-secretary and a possible successor to Merkel, said the scheme would allow refugees to become more accepted by the public
She suggested: "One year of service for men and women.
"The service would not only apply to German citizens but to refugees and asylum-seekers of legal age who are living in Germany."
Her comments were dismissed by the opposition Social Democrats and the proposal has so far found no support from the Greens, the left-wing Die Linke, or the liberal Free Democratic Party (known as FDP). Only the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland (also known as AfD) supports reintroducing military service.
In an interview on Sunday, Merkel herself rejected the controversial idea. Merkel told German broadcaster ARD: "I do not want to reintroduce compulsory military service."
She added that the needs of the military had changed, and said the country's military leadership had indicated their goal is to eliminate the situation of the number of applicants for the voluntary service exceeding the one prescribed by the budget.
It's been reported that Germany is struggling to persuade enough citizens to join its army, the Bundeswehr.
Marco Buschmann, of the pro-business Free Democrats, said the CDU just wanted more cheap labor.
"This is a social explosive and would not help to calm the social conflict over integration," he told Frankfurter Allgemeine.
For more than 50 years, all German men were obliged to spend a year in the army after leaving school. Those who couldn't, or wouldn't, volunteered their time in community service instead.
The program was abolished in 2011, but the belief that young people should dedicate a year to national service persists. Now, the CDU leadership, keen to reunite the party around traditional core values, is revisiting the concept as recent polls showed that the majority of Germans support the idea.