Conscription in the European Union

Barbara Zak

The mandatory military service may seem to be outdated since the majority of the Member States of the European Union (EU) base their military capacity on professional soldiers and volunteers, rather than conscripts. Nevertheless, with regards to the actual sensation of instability of security in Europe, it appears that having a competent army able to defend the nation may play a huge role at the international level in the long run.

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Soldiers from Sweden’s Skaraborg regiment patrol during a military manoeuvre in Visby, on the island of Gotland. Photograph: Soren Andersson/EPA

At the beginning of March 2017, the Swedish government has decided to re-activate conscription from January 1st 2018, a decision that has been backed by the country’s MPs (70% of the Parliament). This decision concerns 4,000 young men and women (because of gender neutrality) out of 13,000 young people born in 1999, who will serve for 12 months. Obviously, the voluntary recruitment to the Armed Forces is still maintained. The reason for this change given on the website of the Swedish government is that“the security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel. The re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness”. We can understand that this choice has been made following the security change in the Baltic region and the increased military activity by Russia (war in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea). We should note that conscription system was abolished in Sweden in 2010.

As the EU is defined as an economic free-trade area with a single market (that is to say that it is primarily an economic union), it does not have any EU army. Member States have their own army which serves in case of an attack against the nation. The national armies can be implied in national or international conflicts following the decision of the government or parliament. Laws concerning military conscription are then regulated by the national law-making bodies. Military service is mandatory in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece and Lithuania. In the majority of cases, it is compulsory for all male adult citizens, while women have the choice of enrolling into the military service. They can choose between military or civilian service. Germany considered in 2016 to have conscription returned in case of national emergency, as provided by the constitution. Interesting fact, for instance, in 2013, Austria held a referendum which result was that Austrians, with around 60% of the voters, were in favour of retaining compulsory military service.

civilian and military.

Copyright : Matt Hinsa || Creative Commons

Austria being an original case, mandatory military service still suffers from a social lack of support. The youth clearly declares their preference of starting their careers and families, rather than spending months as a conscript. There is a risk of the acceleration of youth emigration, as it was the case in Lithuania when it reintroduce conscription. Some opinions state that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could be considered as the best solution for the defence of European countries since its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. However, the majority of the states in which military service is mandatory are not part of NATO : Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Sweden. As a result, increasing the army troops by changing the voluntary recruitment into a mandatory military service does not seem an irrational decision.

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Sources :

http://www.government.se/articles/2017/03/re-activation-of-enrolment-and-the-conscription/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/28/sweden-bring-back-conscription-2018

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/02/sweden-reintroduce-conscription-amid-rising-baltic-tensions

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39140100

http://4liberty.eu/mandatory-military-service-a-solution-for-national-defence-in-eu-member-states/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/24/lithuania-reinstate-compulsory-military-service

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/lithuania-reintroduces-compulsory-military-service-to-counter-russian-threat-53376

http://www.baltictimes.com/lithuania_publishes_2016_conscription_lists/

http://en.delfi.lt/lithuania/defence/conscription-boosted-emigration-lithuanian-pm-says.d?id=70086058

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/23/germany-considers-plan-to-bring-back-conscription/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21110431

http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/CSS-Analysen-75-FR.pdf

http://www.leparisien.fr/espace-premium/actu/interactif-service-militaire-qui-fait-quoi-en-europe-15-02-2016-5547853.php

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