The CDU wants to nationalize an entire year of life for young people. It’s called a mandatory company year. For me this is a scandal – the CDU member of the Bundestag Dr. Christoph Ploß defends the idea. Give me a moment to hear both opinions.

Let’s try a thought experiment: you have to work compulsorily for a year. Doing an activity that doesn’t suit them at all. 40 hours a week. For your work you receive around 26 days of vacation and around 500 euros in monthly wages. You won’t even be paid the minimum wage. Screaming unfair, right?

Well, if the CDU has its way, this will very soon become a nationwide reality. With one exception: it should only affect young people in our country. The Union calls this a mandatory social year. This means a service “that enables all young people to get temporarily and specifically committed to our country and our society,” it says.

Nena Brockhaus, born in 1992, is a business journalist, television presenter, political commentator and four-time Spiegel best-selling author (Unfollow, Pretty Happy, I’m not green, Old Wise Men). After stints at Handelsblatt and BUNTE, she moderated the political talk show “Viertel nach Acht” for BILD from 2021 to 2023. With her column “Nena and the other opinion”, Brockhaus would like to contribute to a differentiated opinion in our society – sometimes through unpopular theses and the expansion of what can be said.

Enabling is an exciting verb in this context. It sounds like a free choice. But the CDU rejects a voluntary option. The social year should be compulsory for all young people.

In addition, the CDU repositioned itself on compulsory military service at the federal party conference this week. “We will gradually withdraw the suspension of compulsory military service and convert compulsory military service into a compulsory year of service,” says a resolution by the CDU party conference for the planned new basic program.

The overarching goal remains a mandatory year of service, which can be completed both in the Bundeswehr and in social institutions.

I pick up the phone and call the CDU member of the Bundestag and historian Dr. Christoph Ploß. We are on a first-name basis through my previous “Bild” political talk show “Viertel nach Acht”. Before you, dear readers, find this strange: many journalists and politicians in Berlin call each other by their first names. Most people just keep it quiet.

I find this increasingly absurd: the Berlin bubble is sitting together in the trendy Borchardt restaurant in the evening and is on first-name terms, while the next day everyone is politely speaking to each other in front of the camera on the talk show. Kind of hypocritical.

Above all, why shouldn’t the public know that people call each other by their first names? In 2024, this is very normal, especially in my generation, and has nothing to do with loss of distance.

And I can tell you from experience: debating via you is pretty tiring. But today it’s not about the lying political Siez culture in our country. If you like, I’ll write about it elsewhere. But rather about the mandatory year of company, which the CDU is demanding.

Brockhaus: Good morning Christoph, where can I reach you?

Ploß: Hello Nena! You can reach me at the CDU federal party conference.

Brockhaus: Great, I expected that. Why do you want to introduce a compulsory social year? While at the same time you are advertising the word freedom boldly on your election posters for the European elections? A compulsory year for young people is contrary to individual freedom.

Ploß: Freedom does not mean that there are no longer any obligations for citizens. A functioning state is characterized by rights and obligations. That’s why I’m in favor of a mandatory social year.

Brockhaus: The emphasis here is on mandatory. So coercion. The fact that you, at the party conference, decided to intertwine the gradual reintroduction of compulsory military service with the social year you are calling for reveals a strange picture of youth. As if you were simply asking all young people to finally give something back to society. No matter what. Maybe in the future you should instead display the slogan “We are for civic duties” instead of freedom. That would be more honest.

Ploß: The CDU stands for freedom in many areas. For example, we are against a ban on the internal combustion engine. We want to enable people to have individual mobility, especially in rural areas. We are in favor of companies being able to make as many decisions as possible themselves without the state talking into them. We strictly reject totalitarian ideologies, whether from the far left or the far right. The CDU places individual freedom as a fundamental value at the center of its politics. But a free state simply cannot function without obligations, for example when it can no longer defend its freedom against aggressive, authoritarian, unfree states.

Brockhaus: Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, our free state has functioned without a mandatory social year.

Ploß: I would like to give further arguments why I am in favor of it. We are drifting further and further apart as a society. Bubbles and echo chambers are increasingly emerging in which one is hardly ever confronted with other opinions or realities of life. The feeling for other social groups is lost. The compulsory social year will strengthen our social cohesion.

Brockhaus: You once completed nine months of community service yourself. At that time, this was mandatory for young men if they refused to join the Bundeswehr. If it were up to you, you should have completed your community service for three months longer.

Ploß: Yes, I am also in favor of the compulsory year of community service because of my positive experiences with community service. I completed my community service in a nursing home and learned a lot about life – especially how important social commitment is for our society. I came into contact with people I would never have interacted with otherwise.

Brockhaus: What did your daily work in the nursing home look like?

Ploß: From handing out food to running errands for the seniors, from turning in bed to tidying up the rooms, I helped in a variety of ways. There was everything you could do as a nursing assistant. So I saw first hand what was going on in the care sector and also how difficult the situation there sometimes is. This is a topic that will concern us all for decades to come. The direct insights from my community service help me a lot in my work as a member of the Bundestag today.

Brockhaus: The state’s failure in the care sector has been clearly evident for decades. You don’t need to have helped out in a nursing home to know this. And the CDU now wants to solve this serious social problem with forced labor of young people? I may have chosen the term forced labor to be exaggerated at this point. But to put it bluntly, you were a cheap worker in the care sector for the state for nine months.

Ploß: A compulsory year of service is not forced labor. The company year is not about earning a high salary. This is the wrong approach. It’s about important experiences for young people: for example, broadening their own horizons and doing a service for others.

Brockhaus: The possibility already exists. It’s called a voluntary social year. In addition, many young people are already doing voluntary work outside of school.

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Ploß: How many are currently completing a voluntary social year? If you only do it on a voluntary basis, most people decide against it. It’s about doing something for society that is not just in your immediate self-interest. The compulsory social year cannot be compared with volunteer work at school.

It’s great when young people coach soccer teams or lead swimming courses. But it is not comparable to the experience of working in a social institution for a year or serving in the Bundeswehr. The social year is also about everyone – be it the son of a rich banker or the daughter of a working-class household – taking part and pulling together for others. Different worlds meet. This is important.

Brockhaus: You see the compulsory social year as pretty rosy. Let’s take a look at the salary: How do you want to live on around 500 euros in a city like Hamburg, where you come from? You currently receive less than 500 euros per month for the voluntary social year. Plus the entitlement to child benefit, which remains. That’s a bad joke for 40 hours of work per week. No wonder that not the majority of young people choose the FSJ. Instead of being in favor of the mandatory social year, the CDU should create better conditions for the FSJ.

Ploß: Most people don’t first work for years and then complete a year of social work, but rather live at home after school and don’t have their own apartment to pay for. If this is not possible, there must be subsidies. You can also discuss a higher expense allowance for the company year up to and including the minimum wage. But it’s not about earning the highest possible salary.

Brockhaus: Even if you were to pay the minimum wage, the nationalization of an entire year of life for young people remains. The state should not act as a guardian for young people.

Ploß: The fact is, Nena: A functioning society also includes duties. We have an acute military threat from Russia, and that cannot be explained away. We also have a great need in the social sector, which will continue to increase. I think it is right when the state says to all young people: everyone, whether male or female, must complete compulsory military service or do social service; Everyone has to give something back to society for a certain period of time. This has nothing to do with torturing or bullying young people. The social year is an enriching experience that shapes young people. Incidentally, this is also what the majority of people who have done community service or served our country in the Bundeswehr say.

Brockhaus: Even if you are convinced of this, it doesn’t change the fact that the compulsory social year you are demanding is illegal. The Basic Law speaks legally against a general obligation to serve. After the experience of forced labor under the Nazis, the authors stipulated in Article 12: “No one may be forced to do a particular job, except within the framework of a conventional general public service obligation that is the same for all.”

Ploß: First of all, we as the CDU want the gradual reintroduction of compulsory military service. The willingness of young people to do military service should also be taken into account and initially only as many as the Bundeswehr needs should be drafted.

This is possible for young men without changing the constitution. In order to take young women into account or to introduce a general social year, a majority in the Bundestag would probably be needed to change the constitution. We as the CDU will promote this. We should therefore not conduct the debate about a mandatory social year primarily in terms of constitutional law, because in the end it is primarily a political question.

We hang up. Christoph didn’t convince me. After all, in certain cases he at least considers the minimum wage for the compulsory company year. That would be an improvement. However, this does not change the pressure on young people in our country at all. But now I’m interested in your opinion: Are you Team Ploß or Team Brockhaus? For the compulsory company year or against it?

If you would like to share your own opinion with me in the comments section, I would be happy to hear it. Rest assured, I always read all your comments. Each. Every week.

With this in mind: If you like, we’ll read each other again next Saturday.

Yours, Nena Brockhaus