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Germany

A Land of Differences

While the core of German president Horst Köhler's remarks on differences in living and employment standards focused on eastern and western states, figures published on Tuesday show discrepencies across the whole country.

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Bavaria may be celebrating, but many northern states are troubled

While debate rages over the perceived divide between living standards and employment possibilities in eastern and western Germany, provoked further by recent comments made on the subject by German President Horst Köhler, figures published on Tuesday showed that while differences do exist between the former East and West regions, the same can be said for northern and southern states.

Research undertaken by The German Institute for Economic Research during 2003 has revealed that while eastern states do generate less in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per person than some western states, other areas in the north and south west of the country are also lagging behind the big earners.

Montagsdemonstration in Duisburg

Germans in western cities, such as Duisburg, have also been demonstrating against labor reforms

While states such as Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg in eastern Germany have a GDP per person of around €17,500 ($21,448), Lower Saxony in the north and Rhineland-Palatinate in the south-west are not so far removed with an average of around €22,900. The majority of eastern, northern and south-western states all fall behind the German average of €25,800 in GDP per person.

Rich southern states better off than north

Hamburg

Hamburg's entertainment district

The city states of Hamburg, with a GDP per person of €44,500, and Bremen, with €35,300, are the exceptions in the northern region and are more in line with the large and affluent southern states of Bavaria (€29,900) and Baden-Württemberg (€29,400). The rest of the north is as far behind the southern giants as the eastern states are behind the poorest western regions.

The core of Horst Köhler's comments over the weekend regarding differences in eastern and western states was seized upon by opposition parties, seemingly intent on exploiting a real or imagined divide for their own purposes ahead of state elections.

But a closer look at the German president's interview with news magazine Focus published on Sunday shows that Köhler in fact pointed out that the living standards and employment possibilities varied all over Germany, a view supported by the institute's statistics.

Benefit claimants favor Bremen

While the figures confirm that average unemployment in the eastern states is almost ten percent higher than the worst affected western region -- Bremen with 16.3 percent, 14.3 percent registered -- northern and western states have a higher number of people claiming social benefits, with Berlin the exception in the east.

Arbeitslosenzahlen

A visitor takes a numbered ticket as he waits in line in a German labor office

The statistics again show that unemployment in the south of Germany is a lot less than in northern states and that Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are well below the German average of 12.9 percent. The two large southern states have the least amount of benefit claimants, with Bavaria recording the lowest figure of 17 per 1,000 citizens compared to Bremen's 92 per 1,000, the largest in the country.

Economists line up behind Köhler

Reactions to Köhler's remarks continue to surface with many economic experts and commentators agreeing with their president.

"Köhler is perfectly right in what he says," said Klaus von Dohnanyi, head of a special government-appointed commission on East Germany. "Of course there will be regional differences. You have them in other countries," the former senior Social Democratic politician told the Associated Press. "But that does not mean Köhler is accepting the high levels of unemployment in Eastern Germany."

Subventionen Steuer Bergbau

German coal mining regions are struggling to adapt to the changing economy

Michael Rogowski, president of the Federation of German Industry, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that he "fully and completely" agreed with Köhler's comments. Rogowski added that it is not possible to guarantee identical standards of living for all people and that it is only possible to create identical conditions from which standards of living can develop.

Politicians warn of negative effects

However, senior politicians continue to view the president's remarks with concern. Renate Künast, the agriculture and consumer affairs Minister, said: "It's not a president's job to say: 'take care of your problems on your own.'"

"The message that comes across to East Germans is: be satisfied, there won't be any more equality," Reinhard Bütikofer, the head of the Greens party, told the Berliner Zeitung. Greens lawmaker Fritz Kuhn accused Köhler of unwittingly helping the ex-communist PDS party, which has been prominent in championing the perceived east-west divide ahead of state elections, saying they draw strength "from a fundamental sense of many east Germans that they are second-class."

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