German soldiers offered free travel in uniform to ‘boost army visibility’

German soldiers will be encouraged to travel on the country’s rail network in uniform as part of a plan by the new defence minister to make the armed forces “more visible”.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a favourite of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has pledged to push for increased military spending as she tries to strengthen the bond between Germans and their armed forces.

She told the German Bundestag last week that politicians needed to do more to highlight the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.

A proposal, leaked to Bild newspaper, to provide free train tickets to the country’s 180,000 soldiers as long as they are dressed in their khakis has met with approval; a survey published on Sunday showed that three quarters of Germans were in favour of the initiative.

But Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer faces an uphill struggle in a country still scarred by its aggressive early 20th century militarism.

Politicians often avoid being photographed next to military hardware for fear of the damage it could do to their public image. Awarding soldiers medals for bravery, a policy which was reintroduced a decade ago, is also politically contentious.

This difficult relationship has contributed to chronic under-funding in the armed forces, a state of affairs which led Mrs Merkel’s former top military adviser to warn that the army would be helpless in the face of a Russian invasion.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who leads Mrs Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrat (CDU) party, has laid out plans to increase the military budget to two per cent of GDP in order to meet a pledge made by Nato members in 2014.

This proposal has already met serious resistance from coalition partners the Social Democrats.

Germany’s military spending is expected to hit 1.35 per cent of GDP this year, compared with 1.23 per cent in 2018, according to AP.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer took over from Mrs Merkel as CDU leader at the end of last year and is the veteran Chancellor’s preferred choice to take over when she retires.

But the CDU have stagnated in polling and now faces competition from the Greens for the mantle of Germany’s most popular party. Since Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer joined the government last week, polling has shown no improvement in their fortunes.

 

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