What gives East Germany a bad reputation

German unity: "The situation in the east is much better than its reputation"

Despite persistent structural weaknesses in the eastern German federal states, the federal government sees significant progress in the economic catch-up process there. "The situation in the east is much better than its reputation," said the government commissioner for the east, Christian Hirte, who has completed his annual report for the federal government on the state of German unity. "The economic power of East Germany has risen from 43 percent in 1990 to 75 percent of the West German level in 2018," he said. The bottom line is that there has been "an extremely positive development" since reunification, said Hirte, who also works as Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics.

"The economic, social and societal condition in the East is much better than we all expected and imagined 30 years ago", continued the CDU politician - and at the same time restricted: Many people in the East are "tired of change" and still felt like second class citizens. "We mustn't overstrain them. The expectations of the state are greater than in the West."

There are still many citizens who believe that the East is disadvantaged collectively and individually, said Hirte. "This is because the East Germans were unlucky enough to have been on the wrong side of history for 40 years." However, there has been a massive catching-up process in recent years.

Increased wages and pensions, growing middle class

Shepherd explains this in his annual report. Accordingly, wages and pensions have risen disproportionately, the disposable income is at a level comparable to that of the West due to the lower cost of living. The annual report shows that increases in wage equalization were achieved in 2018, from 81 to 84 percent. The gross domestic product (GDP) rose last year in the east by 1.6 percent more strongly than in the west with 1.4 percent. The pensions in the east are currently 96.5 percent of the west value.

"Overall, the East is extremely attractive not only for business settlements, but also for citizens," it says. Especially in the middle class, companies would grow faster than average, which the federal government wants to promote even more in the future. Last but not least, the birth rate is higher in the east and since 2017 more people have been moving from the west to the east than vice versa from the east to the west.

According to Hirtes' expertise, the fact that the East German economy is weakening as a whole is primarily due to structural factors. These included the fragmented nature of the East German economy, a lack of corporate headquarters for large companies and the rural settlement structure. The society was also older than in the west because of the emigration of many young people after 1989/1990, said the Eastern Commissioner. He advocates better promoting structurally weak regions and, in the course of the coal phase-out, relocating new administrations and authorities, especially in the east. "The state must not withdraw from rural areas on a large scale," he said.

Rural character, no large corporate headquarters

Shepherd expressly rejects the fact that the Treuhand is solely to blame for the economic problems in the East. "The fact that the East is now economically in a worse position than the West is not due to the situation since 1990 - but because the GDR was economically ailing," he said. "I think it's outrageous nonsense that creates the impression that the West has practically overrun and exploited the East from 1990 onwards. Of course, companies in the East have also got under the wheels in the course of privatization. I don't want to claim that we did would have done everything right. " But he thinks that the trust is to blame for the problems is completely wrong. "If the Left and AfD think that it was all caused by the evil West, that's a mistake of history," said the CDU politician.

With this, Hirte also reacted to statements by the left parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch, who had said to himself that the damage that the Treuhand had caused was still a major cause of the economic backwardness in the East and of political frustration. The Left Party is therefore calling for a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Treuhand, which played a central role in transforming the GDR planned economy into a market economy. However, this requires the approval of the other groups. So far, support has only come from the AfD.