Status: 27.09.2023, 16:45 p.m.
Carsten Schneider, Commissioner for Eastern Europe, at the presentation of the report on the state of German unity. © Michael Kappeler/dpa
On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany united. Is the country growing together? Or are misunderstandings growing? The report on German unity shows that somehow both are true.
Berlin - Success story or tragedy? When it comes to the state of German unity, it's probably the perspective that counts. In his annual report published today, Carsten Schneider, Commissioner for Eastern Europe, celebrates the progress made, including the equalization of pension values in East and West and the increase in the minimum wage, which benefits many in the East. On the other hand, a lot of inequality remains, even 33 years after reunification. And some resentment.
He will come to the problems in a moment, Schneider said at his press conference in Berlin. But the SPD politician once again sent ahead what an "unbelievable gain" German unification had been. And very personally: "I don't know where I would have ended up if German unity hadn't come," said the 47-year-old Thuringian. It's easy to forget that in the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
But looking back at the historically phenomenal moment of peaceful revolution and unification has long since ceased to support everyone. In a recent Infratest survey for the ARD program "Listen to us! We East Germans and the West", 57 percent of the approximately 1300 respondents nationwide were of the opinion that East and West had grown together less strongly or not at all since 1990.
In eastern Germany, as many as 62 percent said so. "The differences between East and West are as if engraved in concrete," complained Left Party parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch, writing the traffic light a "poor" in the report card. Sepp Müller, the CDU's representative for Eastern Europe, also saw "wrong accents".
Lower wages are upsetting - conditions are changing
An upset remains that in the East, on average, earnings are still lower than in the West. According to data from the annual report, the average annual gross wage in the east in 2022 was 34,841 euros, about 86 percent of the western level. At the same time, the economic power per capita is lower: the gross domestic product per capita is 79 percent of the value in the West.
But the conditions are changing. "East German industry has successfully repositioned itself in recent years," says Schneider's report. "A modern industrial base with new settlements and jobs has emerged."
According to Schneider, these include small and medium-sized enterprises, but also international heavyweights such as the US chip manufacturer Intel with its planned plant near Magdeburg and Tesla in Brandenburg. "Basically, the labor market has changed completely," Schneider said. Today, skilled workers are also in high demand in the eastern federal states, and they are no longer available as cheaply as they were years ago.
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The great exodus is over
The shortage of skilled workers is only one splinter of the major issue of demography. "While in 1990 the population in the East was on average younger than in the West, this ratio has now been reversed," the report says. In 2021, 17 percent of people in the East were younger than 20 years old, and almost 19 percent in the West. 65 percent were over 27 years old in the East and 22 percent in the West.
After all, the great wave of emigration from East to West has turned. "In the period from 2017 to 2021, the eastern German states recorded slight internal migration gains," the report says. The bottom line in 2021 was nevertheless a minus for the eastern German states, a so-called migration loss of 1.2 million people. "A generation is gone, so to speak," Schneider said.
So far, relatively few have come from abroad: In the five eastern German states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony, the proportion of immigrants was less than ten percent - compared to 24.3 percent nationwide.
Many East Germans in the countryside
There are also stark differences in the distribution of residents between urban and rural areas. According to Schneider's data, around 55 percent of people in the east live in rural areas, and 26 percent in the west. Because younger people moved away, the proportion of older people in smaller communities in the east is higher and the proportion of people of working age is lower - lower than in the west in urban and rural areas and also lower than in eastern German cities.
For the report, Schneider had extensive data collected in a "Germany Monitor" in order to shed light not only on East-West differences, but also on the urban-rural divide. The results of the political scientist Everhard Holtmann, however, remained pale. The most important thing is that the vast majority of people in urban and rural areas are satisfied with their living environment, while one in five are not.
Where the East is at the top
The wage gap between women and men is smaller in the East, at least when comparing the average hourly wage: In the West, this "unadjusted gender pay gap" between men and women was 19 percent, in the East only 7 percent. Mothers with young children are more likely to work in the East than in the West (48.8 percent to 37.8 percent). More under-three-year-olds are in the daycare center. And, according to studies, men help more with private tasks in the East than in the West. In addition, there are more hospital beds per 100,000 inhabitants in the east, although the number of clinics is smaller. Apartments are also often easier to find and finance in the east, as Holtmann said.
Where the East is different
According to the report, support for the ecological restructuring of the economy is weaker in East Germany than in the West. "56 percent of respondents in West Germany are 'very much in favor,' compared to 37 percent in East Germany." When it comes to information on personal behaviour - such as refraining from air travel in favour of the climate, purchasing green electricity or donations and commitment to nature conservation groups - the survey results in the east are all significantly behind those in the west. Of the West German respondents, 12 percent said they were vegetarians. In the East, the figure was four percent. Dpa