German soldiers oppose bill to purge military of extremists

Ministers want to sack radical troops more easily after succession of far-right scandals

Right-wing radicals have allegedly tried to recruit from within the ranks of the German police and military. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Germany is facing resistance from within the ranks to a new anti-extremism bill under which soldiers would be summarily sacked from the army for radical leanings.

Ministers want to act after a series of scandals including a former soldier who planned to frame Syrian refugees for a far-right attack.

Suspected coup plotters arrested last year had also allegedly tried to recruit from within the ranks of the police and military.

A new bill being discussed by MPs on Monday aims to make it easier for officers to be dismissed by their superiors.

Instead of a long disciplinary process that can take years, the bill would create a new sackable offence of supporting efforts to undermine the constitution.

“Anyone who supports or pursues such efforts is not suitable to serve in the armed forces,” the government says in 32 pages of documentation handed to MPs.

It says troops with radical views pose a particular danger because “more than anyone else, they have access to weapons of war and corresponding ammunition”.

Legal experts and representatives of military personnel say the bill goes too far and could turn the presumption of innocence on its head by sacking soldiers first and inviting them to appeal in the courts.

Soldiers’ union representatives Andreas Fullmeier and Tobias Ehmann said in a joint submission that cases of extremism or suspected disloyalty to the constitution amounted to 0.022 per cent of troops.

“A law should not fuel mistrust of all 181,000 soldiers for the sake of 0.022 per cent,” they said. “It significantly unsettles the troops. Soldiers have done nothing to earn a blanket suspicion.”

They said summary sackings by superiors would involve "no independent, neutral investigations" and leave troops vulnerable to officers looking to dismiss them.

Katrin Groh, a law professor at a university for the German military, said it could be “constitutionally problematic” for soldiers to be sacked for mere membership of a radical group.

Ministers say the current procedure is too slow and that “purely tactical appeals” before the courts can hold up the process.

An elite military unit within Germany’s special commando forces was disbanded in 2020 after reports of Nazi salutes at a party and items of National Socialist memorabilia being found on a sergeant major’s property.

The military was rocked again by the case of Franco A, a former soldier who plotted to attack senior politicians while posing as a refugee from Syria to stir up racial tensions. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison after prosecutors said he took weapons and explosives from the German army and used make-up to darken his face.

The arrest last year of 25 people linked to a bizarre right-wing plot to overthrow the state and restore the long-dead German Reich led to the suspicion that former soldiers were involved in the planning.

A further revelation came in documents made public in September, which said two people were sacked from the armed forces for their links to the Turkish nationalist Grey Wolves movement.

Updated: November 13, 2023, 2:13 PM