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Federal Council wants to make admissions to civilian service more difficult

Updated at 01 Mar 2024 11:41 am

The Federal Council wants to reduce admissions to civilian service. This is intended to enforce the constitutional requirement that there is no freedom of choice between military and civilian service, as the state government announced on Friday.

The Federal Council is proposing six measures to reduce admissions to alternative civilian service: Firstly, applicants who have completed recruit school will now have to complete a minimum of 150 days of alternative civilian service.

Secondly, the factor of 1.5 in the calculation of days of service should also apply to non-commissioned officers and officers of the Swiss Armed Forces who wish to switch to civilian service. According to the Federal Council, the evidence-based solution in force since 2009 without assessment of the conflict of conscience will not be called into question. However, the requirements would be increased for people who have already completed a significant part of their military service.

Thirdly, according to the proposal, civilian service should not be allowed to include assignments that require a human, dental or veterinary degree that has been started or completed. Fourthly, members of the armed forces who no longer have any remaining days of service should no longer be eligible for civilian service. According to the Federal Council, this is to prevent them from gaining an advantage by avoiding compulsory military service, which applies until the end of the year before they are released from compulsory military service.

Fifthly, an annual deployment obligation should be introduced from the time of admission to civilian service. Those admitted to civilian service should have to complete the so-called "long deployment" at the latest in the calendar year following their legally binding admission if the application was submitted during recruit school.

Long-standing debate continues

The measures proposed by the Federal Council were already part of a bill to amend the Civilian Service Act, which was rejected by the National Council in the final vote in the 2020 summer session by 103 votes to 90 with 5 abstentions.

The most controversial point of the bill at the time was the one-year waiting period for members of the army who wanted to switch to civilian service. During the waiting period, applicants would also have had to continue to perform military service.

The National Council and Council of States then adopted a motion from the SVP parliamentary group entitled "Strengthening the armed forces by means of measures for civilian service" in the fall 2022 and spring 2023 sessions. The Councils thus followed the Federal Council's proposal for adoption. On Friday, the Federal Council opened the consultation on the corresponding bill. This will last until June 11, 2024.

Reasons other than conflicts of conscience

Admissions to civilian service have remained at a high level in absolute terms since 2009. According to the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), 6635 new registrations were approved in 2022. The Federal Council considers the number of civilian service registrations, in particular the number of applications from members of the armed forces who have completed recruit school, specialists and army cadres, to be problematic.

According to the Federal Council, the proposed amendment to the law will counteract applications for admission that are essentially motivated by reasons other than conflicts of conscience. As a result, the number of applications for civilian service, particularly from members of the armed forces who have passed recruit school, should fall.

Admissions only one factor for army numbers

However, because civilian service is only one of the factors that have an impact on the army's numbers, it cannot be expected that the number of people leaving the army will decrease in line with the reduction in admissions to civilian service, the Federal Council continued. As a result of the measures relating to applications for civilian service, the Federal Council anticipates a reduction in admissions to 4,000 people per year.

As a result, fewer people and service days would be available in the longer term for civilian service missions for the benefit of society. However, in view of the enforcement of the constitutional requirement that there is no freedom of choice between military service and alternative civilian service, this is acceptable, wrote the Federal Council.

©Keystone/SDA

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