Industry president dieter kempf has acknowledged political and business failures in the east – and called for a joint effort, especially for better infrastructure.
Shortly before the state elections in brandenburg and saxony, kempf told the deutsche presse-agentur: "we have listened far too little to the people in eastern germany and also looked too little at them. The regional differences in eastern germany are sometimes enormous. In some places, we are experiencing a veritable exodus from the villages."
A few days before the state elections on sunday in brandenburg and saxony, the president of the federation of german industry (bdi) said: "we need a joint effort to significantly improve the infrastructure in the east in particular." This is a joint task of politics and economy. "For too long, the mistake was made of equating infrastructure with road construction. But infrastructure is so much more – it’s also internet access, the village pub, the baker and the local doctor. This has been neglected. I can understand when people there feel they have not been noticed."
When the young and well-educated look for their future elsewhere and cash-strapped municipalities have to close schools and kindergartens, the sense of social cohesion suffers, said the BDI president. "There is also a clear discrepancy between the genders. Women, on the whole, have been much quicker to seize new professional opportunities since the turn of the century than have manner."
Improving the situation is first and foremost a political task. "But we have to flank this economically. Subsidies quickly come to nothing. They can even delay structural change. That’s why existing funds should not be used according to the "pouring can" principle," said kempf. "The municipalities know best what the right solutions look like on the ground. Therefore, they must be empowered to help themselves. Above all, it’s about expanding the digital infrastructure. There are still many regions without fast internet, and that will be the case in 2019. No one should be surprised if no business settles there."
The economy can encourage companies to settle here. "But it’s also up to the municipalities. This starts with a modern digital infrastructure, even in the flat, and a good infrastructure in terms of mobility and opportunities for education and training, and ends with a modern administration that works efficiently and digitally."
Left-wing parliamentary group leader dietmar bartsch buried kempf’s statements. "Unfortunately, we have an eastern commissioner in the federal government who denies this finding," bartsch told dpa. "Not only was there too little listening, however. I’m reminded of the huge cuts of agenda 2010," said bartsch. This has robbed many in the east – as in the west – of their security and confidence. "Bleeding landscapes, then the east as a matter of leadership, then merkel as east german chancellor and gauck as east german federal president – the principle was always similar: first many hopes and promises, at the end there were often disappointments for many east germans."
Even 30 years after the fall of the berlin wall, there are still major differences between the economies of the east and the west. To this day, no dax company has its headquarters in eastern germany. East germany’s economic catch-up process is stagnating, says BDI in may. A major problem is the shortage of skilled workers. However, the BDI had also pointed to progress. After reunification, the gross domestic product in the east was one-third of the level in west germany; today it is almost 75 percent. Per capita income has more than doubled.
Kempf warned again against a strengthening of the afd in the elections. "The point is to show what danger a strong right-wing fringe poses for the internationally networked german economy. What it means when, on the one hand, we complain about a shortage of skilled workers, but on the other hand, we exude anything but a welcoming culture."With regard to the afd, he added: "it would not only cause damage to the image of the country, but also economic damage, if it gained political power."
Meanwhile, the head of the IG metall union, jorg hofmann, called for the ecological and digital transformation of the economy not to lead to eastern germany being further decoupled. Many companies in the east are pure manufacturing operations that are working under high cost pressure and whose jobs are threatened by relocation, hofmann said at a works council conference in berlin. Saxony, brandenburg and saxony-anhalt are also massively affected by the phase-out of coal-fired power generation.