German army considers recruiting other EU citizens

German defence chiefs are considering recruiting from other EU countries to fill a chronic shortage of skilled workers in the armed forces.

Eberhard Zorn, the army general inspector, said in an interview the armed forces had little choice but to look beyond Germany for new recruits.

“We’re talking here about doctors or IT specialists,” Zorn told the Funke newspaper group, calling the idea to search for such workers beyond Germany “an option” among several being considered as the army “pushes hard for a suitable new generation”. He said at a time of a general skilled worker shortage the armed forces had to look in every direction to find suitable newcomers.

According to the Funke report, the military has already consulted its EU partners, including several countries in eastern Europe such as Poland and the Czech Republic as it looks to increase its personnel by 21,000 in the next seven years. It has reportedly received a lukewarm response, amid fears in Warsaw and Prague that the German military is looking to poach its highest qualified military personnel by luring them with better pay.

The German government’s military ombudsman, Hans-Peter Bartels, told Funke that recruiting EU foreigners had become “a type of normality” in the military, and that there were already many soldiers with dual citizenship or with an immigrant background among the troops. An estimated 900 foreign citizens are already employed in civilian roles, from IT to logistics.

But the suggestion may lead to accusations that the German government is looking to recruit mercenaries, rather than homegrown German soldiers.

Since Germany scrapped conscription seven years ago it has struggled to recruit soldiers and fill a range of other posts, and has also suffered underinvestment. Amid international pressure to show a greater commitment to global defence as well as boosting personnel, after decades in which it depended more on chequebook diplomacy rather than active troop operations, the government aims to increase the defence budget from 1.2% of GDP to 1.5% by 2024. But it is under pressure to raise this further as it is considerably below the 2% recommended by Nato.

In a separate interview with the Rheinische Post, the defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said the army was well on its way to filling its recruitment targets, having increased its troop numbers by 6,500 in the past two years, and was on target to have 203,000 uniformed soldiers by 2025. She said she was encouraged by the fact a recruitment campaign to attract women meant one in three officer applicants had been a woman this year, and that women comprised 12% of the army.

In an attempt to make the military more attractive, it has introduced more family-friendly hours and improved childcare in recent years.

Von der Leyen said the size the German military should aspire to would “depend on the security situation and the resulting tasks for the troops”. New posts include considerable numbers of cybersecurity experts and jobs related to the European defence union.

Non-German recruits wanting to join the military would have to prove a competent level of German, pledge their loyalty to the German state and present a certificate of good standing issued by the police.

The government sought to address a chronic shortage of skilled workers this month with the introduction of a controversial immigration law to attract qualified workers from outside the EU.