The new minister of defence, Ludivine Dedonder (PS), has announced a plan to increase the pay of military personnel, allow more working from home, and build new barracks to house military on duty.
The plan is part of an attempt to attract more people into the armed forces, with a target of 10,000 new appointments over the next four years.
The proposals are in line with what military unions, including the ACMP-CGPM, have been demanding for years. The number of military personnel have long been dropping, particularly in technical jobs. The level of pay, the union says, means qualified young people are more likely to turn to the private sector.
The effect has been a slow puncture in the military’s manpower: as older personnel retire – usually at a younger age than the rest of the population – they are not being replaced with new young recruits.
The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the labour market, including for young people, is relatively buoyant. Recruitment into the armed services tends to increase when job opportunities elsewhere are depressed.
As a result, according to internal figures from the defence ministry, the number of serving personnel is likely to go down by 40% over the next five years, a loss of 11.400 men and women.
To take one example, the year 2008: a total of 2,883 service personnel left the job – 1,709 retired, 215 took medical retirement, 24 took early retirement, 351 simply left the job at their own request, and 34 died. In addition, 574 were recruits in training who either withdrew or were asked to leave.
The minister has ordered all branches of the services to organise internships for young people, to give them a clear view of what the job entails. The problem is, every trainee needs to be accompanied by a trainer, and the numbers of older, experienced trainers is going down year by year.
The cost of the new measures has not been revealed. The former Chief of Staff asked the government for €1 billion to tackle the problem of recruitment. The final sum allocated, especially in the difficult times the economy is going through, is likely to be considerably less.
Not to mention that a number of bills are soon to become due, for new weapons systems, drones, cargo planes, armoured cars and ships. The bill for new fighter aircraft is more likely to be a headache for the next government after this.
The Brussels Times