January 24, 2024

Germany considers special visa schemes to recruit foreigners into army

Germany considers special visa schemes to recruit foreigners into army

Germany has disclosed a proposal to allow foreign citizens outside the European Union (EU) to join the military known as Bundeswehr.

The proposal was revealed by the German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, stressing the importance of trying to enlist an additional 20,000 troops in the face of threats from Russia.

Under German law, only citizens can serve in the Bundeswehr in principle, though foreigners can be allowed to join in certain special cases.

However, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Bundeswehr has increased its recruitment efforts to meet the new target of 20,000 extra troops.

According to The Telegraph, speaking on the possibility of the scheme, Pistorius said, “We would not be the first armed forces in Europe to do that.” 

If Germany succeeds with this, it will join Denmark, Spain, and Slovakia which also allow foreigners into the army after meeting certain conditions.

However, only UK and Commonwealth citizens are allowed to serve in Britain’s Armed Forces.

Pistorius has already warned that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may decide to attack a NATO country within the next five to eight years, thus, making preparations against it.

“We have to take into account that Vladimir Putin will one day even attack a Nato country,” he said. “Our experts expect a period of five to eight years in which this could be possible … at the moment I don’t think a Russian attack is likely.”

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, announced a “Zeitenwende”, or turning point, in German defence policy shortly after Putin invaded Ukraine. This included pledges to wean the country off cheap Russian gas, spend some €27 billion on support for Ukraine, and to increase the fighting prowess of the Germany army

Free Democratic Party (FDP) member Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs the German parliament’s defense committee, told DW that she could envision opening 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.

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

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.

Beyond Europe, Strack-Zimmermann said the ability to enlist in the German army could even be “extended to NATO,” but added that 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.”

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.

“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.”