German president calls for debate on compulsory social service

The German President wants to introduce a compulsory social service for young people in Germany, to foster “stronger social cohesion”. The Federal Family Minister, however, is against the idea.  

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets with local politicians in the Old Town Hall in Rottweil.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets with local politicians in the Old Town Hall in Rottweil. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Silas Stein

The German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told the Bild on Sunday newspaper that he is in favour of compulsory service in the social sector or in the German armed forces for young people.

“The question is whether it wouldn’t do our country good if women and men put themselves at the service of society for a certain period of time,” he said. This doesn’t have to be in the armed forces, he said, “in my opinion, compulsory social service could be done just as well in caring for senior citizens, in institutions for the disabled or in shelters for the homeless.”

He added that introducing such an obligation would not be easy, but that there should be a debate on the issue.

READ ALSO: Popular incumbent Steinmeier eyes new term as German President

Compulsory military service in Germany was suspended in 2011 after 55 years, but the Russian attack on Ukraine has triggered a new debate on the introduction of universal compulsory service. 

Politicians from the CDU/CSU and SPD called for a discussion on such a move, which would combine military service and social services.

Steinmeier left open how long such a service should last in his view: “I deliberately said compulsory time, because it doesn’t have to be a year. You can also choose a different period.” 

The Federal Family Minister, Lisa Paus, has spoken out against the introduction of compulsory social service for all young people. 

“A compulsory social service would mean an encroachment on the individual freedom of every young person,” the Green Party politician told the German Press Agency on Sunday. 

READ ALSO: Greens’ Lisa Paus to be new German Family Minister

She pointed to the already widespread popularity of voluntary services: “Voluntary commitment would become an obligation. We should continue to give our young people, who have suffered particularly from the Covid pandemic and yet have shown solidarity with their elders, the freedom to make their own decisions.”

Germany already has the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Ecological Year and the International Youth Volunteer Service specifically for young people. These programs are open to young people up to the age of 27, regardless of their school-leaving qualifications, background or income. There is also the Federal Volunteer Service which is open to people of all ages.

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Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

Germany will reinstate its so-called debt brake in 2023 after suspending it for three years to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The government will borrow 17.2 billion euros ($18.1 million) next year, adhering to the rule enshrined in the constitution that normally limits

Germany’s public deficit to 0.35 percent of overall annual economic output, despite new spending as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.

The new borrowing set out in a draft budget to be presented to the cabinet on Friday is almost 10 billion euros higher than a previous figure for 2023 announced in April.

However, “despite a considerable increase in costs, the debt brake will be respected,” one of the sources said.

Although Germany is traditionally a frugal nation, the government broke its own debt rules at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unleashed vast financial aid to steer the economy through the crisis.

READ ALSO: Debt-averse Germany to take on new borrowings to soften pandemic blow

The government has this year unveiled a multi-billion-euro support package to help companies in Europe’s biggest economy weather the fallout from the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Berlin has also spent billions to diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on Russia, as well as investing heavily in plans to tackle climate change and push digital technology.

But despite the additional spending, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has maintained the aim to reinstate the debt brake in 2023.