SHARE
COPY LINK

SWISS ARMY

Euro countries with conscription a minority

Obligatory military service has been progressively abolished in most European countries, though Switzerland looks certain to maintain the draft in a referendum on Sunday.

Euro countries with conscription a minority
Photo: Schweizer Armee

Compulsory since the start of the 19th century in most European countries, conscription armies have gradually been replaced by professional forces since the 1960s.
   
In Western Europe, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Austria, Greece and Cyprus are the only other countries to have kept their system of conscription.
   
Led by Britain and Luxembourg in the 1960s and followed in the 1990s and 2000s by nations including Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland and Germany, successive European nations have abandoned the call-up.
   
When it comes to those that maintain conscription, Norway has gone against the tide and is set to extend it to women, in line with a decision by the parliament voted last June.
   
This measure, passed in the name of equality between the sexes and expected to enter into force in 2015, is easy to exchange for civilian service.
   
In Finland, military service is compulsory for stints of between six and 12 months.

Civilian service, which is available for conscientious objectors, is not encouraged as it is twice as long as military service.
   
In Denmark military service is still in theory obligatory, but out of nearly 5,000 people in service in 2012, 95.8 percent were volunteers, with the remaining 4.2 percent being drawn out of a hat.
   
Estonia also maintains obligatory military service for a period of eight to 11 months.
   
In Austria, citizens overwhelmingly voted by 59.8 percent in January to maintain conscription. Some 22,000 every year carry out six months of military service.

Austrians who do not want to do military service can do nine months of civilian service.
   
In Cyprus and Greece conscription has also been maintained, while its duration has been progressively been reduced to 9-12 months.
   
Sunday's referendum in Switzerland marks the latest attempt by anti-military campaigners to use the Alpine country's system of direct democracy to scrap conscription.
   
Past efforts to do so, and even to abolish the army outright, have failed, however.

Polls show that around two-thirds of Swiss voters will support the status quo this time.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SWISS ARMY

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Once foreigners become citizens of Switzerland they get new benefits as well as responsibilities. Military service is one of the latter but does everyone have to do it?

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?
Once you become Swiss, military service becomes obligatory. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Many foreigners wonder why Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a war in modern times, needs an army in the first place.

But military presence is ubiquitous in Switzerland, stretching far beyond the practical Swiss army knives.

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. Military service for women is voluntary and those who choose to do so will be pleased to know they can wear new, comfortable underwear designed just for them.

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military no longer forced to wear men’s underwear

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. This was an experience of one of our readers, Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, who said that since he became naturalised “the military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

READ MORE: ‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

What if you are a dual national?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

But wait, there’s more

In case you have to serve but for some reason can’t, you’re not off the hook.

If the army won’t get you, taxes will.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

What if you perform the Civil Defence service instead of the military?

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40

Civil service has, however, proven its mettle during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when  around 4,000 civilian volunteers were supporting the emergency services and hospitals.

If you are part of civil defence service, you are entitled to a deduction from the annual military service exemption tax. For every day you worked for civil defence, you can deduct this tax by 4 percent.

This website (in German, French and Italian) explains how to apply for Civil Service.

Does serving as Vatican Papal Guard disqualify you from the military service?

Nice try, but no.

They are not soldiers but part of the Vatican City police force.

SHOW COMMENTS