'An Outstanding Achievement on the Part of all Germans'
Enlarge image German Flag (© picture alliance/dpa) As the 20th anniversary of German reunification approaches, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière took stock of what has been achieved.
"The reunified German state has accomplished something remarkable," he said. "German unity has come of age. Today I can sum up what we have achieved, and I say that the Germans can be proud of how far we have come."
Thomas de Maizière was presenting the latest annual report on the status of German unity in Berlin.
A lot achieved in 20 years
"Since 1990 an enormous amount has been achieved in a short space of time," underscored the federal interior minister, who is also federal government commissioner for the five new federal states. (German unification in 1990 expanded the country to 16 federal states, or Bundesländer.) This has only been possible because of the hard work of those who had the vision, the confidence and the resoluteness to tackle the process of transition.
Enlarge image Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizìere (© Press and Information Office of the Federal Government) In everyday life scarcely one brick was left standing on another, thanks also to the contribution of West Germans, who supported the rebuilding of the East and demonstrated massive solidarity. Thomas de Maizière spoke of a "huge feat of strength" which is unprecedented in German history: "The past 20 years have been a major success story and an outstanding achievement on the part of all Germans."
With the annual report, the German government informs the German Bundestag, or federal parliament, as to the status of the process of unification. It provides information about the measures taken by central government to promote the new federal states. On September 22 the cabinet endorsed the report. It recalls firstly the starting point of reunification – the peaceful revolution in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). This was followed by the establishment of democracy in East Germany and the events 20 years ago that led to unification. The extensive report sums up social and economic development since 1990. It also identifies what must be done before the end of the Second Solidarity Pact in 2019.
The figures are impressive
Enlarge image (© dpa/Juergen Loesel) The facts alone demonstrate how effective the "Aufbau Ost" (Rebuilding the East) measures have been over the last 20 years. In 1991, the gross domestic product per capita in the East was only 33.5 percent that of West Germany. Today it is 73 percent.
The economic structure has changed radically. Today the new federal states once again have an internationally competitive manufacturing industry. The services sector has grown unchecked since 1995. Modern industrial centers have emerged, in the fields of solar and environmental technology, for instance. Their coal-fired power stations are some of the most modern that can be found anywhere. The collective farms have given way to some 30,000 farms of various sizes and legal forms.
Investing in infrastructure
To attract new industry it was essential to invest huge sums in infrastructure – telecommunications and transport. Within the scope of the traffic and transport projects for German unity about 2,000 kilometers of roads have been built or widened. Almost 30 billion euros have been spent on renewing the railway system. The changes are just as tangible in the housing and urban development sectors. Historic old towns have blossomed with the help of special funding programs.
Unemployment down to 1991 levels
Enlarge image (© dpa picture alliance) The reviving economy is now also reflected by the labor market. In 1992, immediately after large parts of ailing East German industry collapsed, almost one in three people of working age in the five new federal states were unemployed or involved in a job creation scheme.
But experts now point to a sound upwards trend. Between 2005 and August 2010 the ranks of the unemployed in the East dropped by a good 600,000. In the last three months total unemployment dropped below the one million mark again for the first time since 1990/91.
With more than 68 percent of the population of working age in employment, the new federal states have not quite reached the West German average of 71 percent. But this figure is higher than the EU average.
Social welfare now on one level
Enlarge image The Federal States (© picture-alliance/ZB/dpa-Report) One of the most important successes has been the building of the social welfare system. In the GDR the position of old age pensioners, the chronically ill, people with disabilities and surviving dependents was anything but rosy. In 1983 the average household income of East German pensioners was nominally only one quarter that of their western counterparts. If we take into account the differences in purchasing power, the level was about one third of the western level.
With the introduction of West German pension legislation and subsequent rises in pensions the level today is almost 90 percent of the western level.
Nor should we forget that life expectancy in the East has risen significantly, and is now almost identical to West German levels. This reflects success in the health and environmental sectors.
The goal of equally good living conditions nationwide
"It is not our goal to achieve an imaginary German average in the Eastern federal states by the end of the Solidarity Pact in 2019," declared Thomas de Maizière. "What we want is to ensure that living conditions are equally good, not standardized."
In view of the structural differences in the economy and on the labor market that still exist between East and West, the German government will be sticking to its promotion strategy to strengthen the economic power and reduce unemployment.