'Bitter' Military Reform: Defense Ministry Releases Base Closure List

After months of wrangling with state officials, the German Defense Ministry on Wednesday released its plans to shrink and close military bases across the nation. Part of reforms to streamline the German military, the plans sparked calls for the goverment to give financial support to the affected communities.

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Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière has repeatedly emphasized that the decisions weren't easy. Still, the German government's plan to slim down the Bundeswehr military forces from 250,000 to 185,000 personnel made the closure of some bases necessary, he said.

Following months of consultations with community and military leaders, on Wednesday de Maizière announced that Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet had approved a plan to close 31 of the country's 328 largest garrisons, while another 90 will be significantly reduced. The defense minister called the cuts "bitter," saying that they signalled an end to some long traditions among troops and would be "painful" for affected communities.

"However this step is unavoidable," de Maizière said. "The Bundeswehr is not there for the communities, but there to fulfil its duties well and economically." Still, the ministry had managed to avoid closing more than one-third of the military bases, he said, adding that an accompanying program would aid the transition for soldiers and civilians affected by the reform. The base closures follow the first major step of the reform to transform the Bundeswehr into a professional force by ending conscription this year.

The DLT association of German counties has called for the government to make additional funding available to ease hardship in communities losing their military facilities, a suggestion the defense minister rejected. "I don't have the budget for that," he said.

Leaner Leadership

The closures, scheduled to take place incrementally until 2017, will affect 10 of Germany's 16 states, with the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, which has the highest per capita rate of soldiers in the country, taking the hardest hit with eight base closures. The southern state of Bavaria will also see major losses. Though just three of its 66 military facilities will be shut down, it will lose some 20,000 out of a current 50,700 jobs.

Bundeswehr leadership structures and command headquarters will also be reshuffled and reduced according to the plans. Additionally, the defense ministry staff will take on a leaner form, going from 3,000 to 2,000, with many making the move from the former West German capital of Bonn to Berlin. The North Rhine-Westphalia city has long resisted moving the capital to Berlin. For now, de Maizière has avoided a major dustup by maintaining the status quo, but the issue is likely to come up again in this legislative period.

The conservative defense minister was met with widespread political support for his plan, even from the opposition, with center-left Social Democratic military spokesperson Rainer Arnold saying he had largely kept his promise to give priority to thinning out bases rather than closing them altogether.

Following the announcement on Wednesday the expected storm of protest from state and community leaders failed to materialize. Peter Harry Carstensen, governor of Schleswig-Holstein, reacted calmly to the news that his state would lose some 10,000 soldiers. "Our arguments have been heard and considered in Berlin," he told news agency DPA.

-- kla, with wires

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