A regional Social Democratic leader has reignited debate about reducing the number of the country’s 16 federal states. The idea is backed by economists, but opposed by policy makers in both east and west.
A merger could save Berlin major administrative costs, advocates say
Jan Bullerjahn, who wants to be elected premier of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt in March, said in an interview on German public radio this week that mergers of several federal states would become inevitable if administrative costs were to be saved and country’s eastern regions made more competitive.
The timing of Saxony Anhalt's Social Democratic leader announcement is no coincidence.
Germany’s grand coalition government of Christian and Social Democrats has already decided on far-reaching reforms that will reshuffle the powers of the state and the regions. In a later phase, financial interactions between the two will also be redefined.
The purpose of this reform is more transparent power sharing and cost reduction in the face of spiraling public deficits at all levels.
Way for the east to play catch-up?
Jan Bullerjahn’s proposal to reduce Germany’s 16 federal states to nine -- starting from 2020 at the latest -- pursues the same objective.
Bullerjahn thinks easterns states such as Thuringia stand to profit
The regional SPD leader is particularly interested in merging the three eastern federal states of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia.
Apart from saving administrative costs and reducing bureaucracy, he argues, such a fusion would be vital, if the east is to achieve its goal of catching up economically with the more advanced western half of the country.
Bullerjahn maintains that the eastern German federal states in their present shape can never become economic forces, largely due to their shrinking populations.
According to him, his home state of Saxony-Anhalt will have shed as many as half a million people by 2020, leaving its overall population at a little over two million.
“By 2020 it will become more than obvious that the eastern federal states will only ever be -- at the very best -- top of the second league if structural changes are not enacted," he said.
"Each federal state will have no more than between two and three and a half million inhabitants each," he added. "Consequently, they’ll never be able to be on a par economically with such populous western federal states as North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.”
Developing the east's potential strengths
Bullerjahn says a depressed east kept alive only by vast annual financial transfers from the west is something nobody should be wishing for.
Merging some federal states, he believes, would be in the interest of the whole country.
“Of course we’ll have to do our homework first in the east and create modern administrative structures which reflect the demographic changes in our population, Bullerjahn said.
Reservations about redrawing the map
Bremen is opposed to mergers
State mergers being debated by policymakers right now would not only affect the east. A merger between the city state of Bremen and Lower Saxony would also be part of the equation.
While economic analysts are in favor of such marriages, Bremen’s mayor is categorically opposed to it. He fears a loss of regional identity and is convinced that mergers would not reduce debts.
In general, people in Germany harbor strong reservations about any attempts to redraw the federal map.
In 1996, a planned merger between the city state of Berlin and Brandenburg was blocked by a referendum. And most politicians know that another similar referendum would be just as disastrous for the pro-merger lobby in 2006 as it was in the mid-1990s.
It appears that people are not ready to significantly downsize Germany's federal system.