Merkel's party debates merits of German national service

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BERLIN (AP) — Seven years after Germany scrapped military conscription, Chancellor Angela Merkel's party is debating the merits of reintroducing some kind of civilian or military national service for young people.

While Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen's spokesman said Monday that the discussion is "good and important," the proposal is vague and the response has been mixed.

Germany dropped the draft in 2011, one of many tenets of conservative orthodoxy brushed aside under Merkel — a trend that has irked some on the right of her party. The new general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has been touring Germany in recent weeks to listen to members and discuss future policies.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said over the weekend that she doesn't expect a return to conscription but wants to discuss a vaguely defined "general service obligation" as a possible plank of a future party platform. She left open whether it should be compulsory.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the ex-defense minister who scrapped conscription, told Monday's edition of the Bild daily that financing civilian service for up to 700,000 young people per year would carry "exorbitant costs." He cautioned that the constitution "doesn't foresee such compulsory, or forced, work assignments."

While there is support from some CDU lawmakers for restoring actual military conscription, more appear skeptical. Only the nationalist Alternative for Germany opposition party whole-heartedly backs the idea.

Von der Leyen's spokesman, Jens Flosdorff, said the discussion of some kind of national service is helpful because "it draws attention to the high added value of young people's service for the state," but said any such service should bring "tangible personal advantages" to those performing it.

He said the minister does not see it as being a debate about "reviving the old military service."

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