Compulsory military service in Italy is being abolished; the last young men being called up to join the services are those born in 1985. The last call-up date will be 31 December 2004 and those who can produce evidence of being students at that date will be exempted from doing military service at a future date.

The new ruling means that there will eventually be 25,000 less people serving in the army, air force, navy, carabinieri, police force, fire brigade, customs and tax police and the forest rangers. Voluntary enrolment will begin in January 2005.

Anyone volunteering for any of the services will have to serve a minimum period of one year and will be paid 850 per month for the first three months and 980 a month for the remaining nine months. Those who then decide to stay on in their chosen service will receive 1,260 per month. Special incentives are to be given to the regiments in the north of the country to ensure that young people will still enrol even where there is low unemployment.

The minister for defence Antonio Martino has expressed satisfaction at the change, saying he believes it will give Italy more professional armed services which are needed, particularly for difficult missions abroad.

There are currently more than 8,500 members of the Italian armed forces serving abroad, almost all of them in a peacekeeping role. More than 4,500 troops are in the Balkans, mainly in Kosovo and Bosnia, where Italy will be taking over command of the peace-keeping contingent at the end of 2005. There are 3,000 Italian military in Iraq and 450 in Afghanistan, where an Italian will take over the leadership of the NATO forces next year. A further 700 troops are in Africa, India and in other Middle Eastern countries.