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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Germany votes for women in combat
German soldiers watch the parliament debate
German women could now find themselves at the front
The lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, has voted to allow combat roles for women in the military.

The European Court earlier this year ordered Germany to amend its constitution, which previously barred female soldiers from combat duties.


This will bring a bit of normality to the situation

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
German women are currently only able to serve in the military as doctors, nurses or band members.

The cross-party motion was backed by 512 deputies with only five opposing and 26 abstaining.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcomed the vote.

"This will bring a bit of normality to the situation," he said on NTV television.

If the Bundesrat, the upper house, also votes for the plan on 1 December, the amendment will come into force in January 2001.

European ruling

In January, the European Court ruled that a ban on women bearing arms in the German armed forces was unlawful.

Tanja Kreil
Tanja Kreil took Germany to the European Court
The court upheld a complaint by Tanja Kreil, an electrical engineer, whose application to join the German Army was rejected by the Defence Ministry in 1996.

But the German amendment appears to go further than the European Court ruling.

In October last year, the court ruled that the UK did not have to let women into the Royal Marines, where all members have to be ready for hand-to-hand combat.

In Germany, however, women will be allowed to embark on any military career they choose, which includes elite units like the marine commandos.

Conscription

The amendment stated that women would "not be forced" to do national service, meaning that they will only be professional soldiers and not subject to conscription.

British women on manoeuvres
British women do combat service, but not in the marines
German men are currently obliged to do 10 months' national service, though alternatives to military service are available.

The German army is being streamlined to allow it to take a greater role in international security operations.

Military personnel is to be cut to 282,000 by 2004 from the current 338,000 by reducing the number of male conscripts called up each year.

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See also:

11 Jan 00 | Europe
German army told to recruit women
27 Oct 99 | UK
Marines 'can ban women'
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