How much money is enough?
The issue of subsidies to be paid by the Federal Republic—in effect, the western länder of Germany—to the former GDR territory in an effort to help improve its infrastructure has been hotly contested for many years: it has become the single most important item within the annual debate of the Länderfinanzausgleich, the system of fiscal federalism aiming at levelling (to a point) the unequal distribution of wealth among Germany's regions.
Regardless of their ideological differences, the east German minister presidents have always been unanimous in their call for larger and longer subsidies, while their West German counterparts routinely urged a reduction of the financial burden shouldered by their electorates. In the past two years or so, the sum quoted by the eastern leaders as necessary "final payment" was of approximately DEM 300 billion (EUR 153 billion).
But now, a new study written and issued, on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Finance, by the prestigious Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (German Institute for Economic Research) is hinting at a much lower effective need on the part of the eastern länder.
Taking into account new parameters such as the outsourcing (privatisation) of public services, the study assumes that by 2005—the reference point for the current five-year round of subsidies agreed as part of the Solidarpakt—the level of infrastructure in the eastern länder will reach 75 per cent of the western reference figures. In certain fields such as culture, the East will even be favoured over the West.
Therefore, the report says, the remaining "final payment" should be of about DEM 160 billion (EUR 82 billion), rather than the DEM 300 billion previously claimed.
Elections are becoming a concern
Roughly a year before the race for the new Bundestag (Germany's federal parliament) is due to start, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has good reason to worry, as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), about his party's prospects with the east German electorate.
In general, the party structure and the degree of stable party affiliation are much weaker in the eastern länder than in the west. This is widely due to the still unaccomplished "inner reunification" (ie reconciliation) of many former GDR citizens with the new system.
Apart from the widespread bad memories that many east Germans hold of the first post-unification years—the "age of colonisation," when many were dumped from their jobs, lost out socially and felt treated like second-class citizens by arrogant "Wessis"—politicians did little to help root in a common value basis for all Germans other than conformist consumerism.
Uncertainty about the economic future abounds—most notably in less-favoured regions such as northern Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Pomerania, where young people leave by the thousands in their search for a better life in the big cities or in western economic centres.
The spread of right-wing extremism, as well as the huge following for the post-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) are just two—obviously very different—ways of expressing east German psychological resistance to the "Western model," which, in their experience, turned out to be mostly heartless, dehumanising capitalism.
Despite its consistent left-wing and "all-German" patriotic tradition, the Social Democrats, just like all other main parties except the PDS, are regarded by east Germans first and foremost as representatives of the victorious Federal Republic—not least because, like all other parties, they clearly failed to provide east Germans with appropriate inner-party representation.
Now the chancellor is eager to correct that image by travelling throughout the East, lauding local initiatives and attending events. He, like everybody else, is well aware that is was here that Helmut Kohl lost out in the 1998 elections and the swing towards the present Red-Green government became possible.
Given the fact that, according to a recent poll, only some seven percent of east Germans who will have reached electoral age by then are "certain" to vote for the Social Democrats in 2002 (not to mention the virtually non-existent Green electorate in the East), a reversal of the 1998 results would be anything but impossible.
In search of new immigration rules
On Thursday, the opposition Christian Democrats presented a concept paper containing their core ideas with respect to a future immigration policy. By doing so, they are trying to get a say in the debate regarding an otherwise classical "left" topic, which they have understood they cannot afford to ignore one year ahead of federal elections.
All parties of the Bundestag regard as crucial that the envisaged legislation on such an important topic be supported by as large a majority as possible, across party borders. The main characteristics of the Conservatives' proposal are, expectedly, a strong emphasis on the "national interest" in relation to immigration, as well as on effective state control and possible enforcement of certain "integration measures" such as obligatory language classes.
The ruling centre-left coallition, while leaning towards an emphasis on individual rights and the humanitarian character of the future immigration policy, is showing signs of obvious relief after the opposition—which has a decade-long record of stonewalling any positive state action in this field—apparently has accepted this topic as one to stay on the agenda.
For a moment, the Christian Democrats have managed to get an edge on the ruling Social Democrats; the latter are now the last party in the Bundestag who has yet to come up with a concept paper of their own.
Jens Boysen, 4 May 2001
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