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Germany

Eastern German Industry Calls for More Optimism

Industry leaders in eastern Germany have called for full economic parity across the country to remain on track as concerns over east-west discrepencies continue.

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Eastern German success stories include Dresden's "Silicon Valley"

Following controversial remarks by German president Horst Köhler that the country’s east will probably never reach western living standards, industry associations from the new federal states on Tuesday issued an appeal which called on Germans not to let full economic unity slip out of sight. They also demanded that the German government of Social Democrats and Greens finally depart from what they described as an economic and social zigzag course.

The industry associations in eastern Germany say the current debate about equal living standards in the two halves of the reunited country won't serve as an excuse to do nothing about the current discrepancies.

But in a statement issued in Berlin, Walter Botschatzki, the president of the business associations in the eastern state of Thuringia, said the east remains grateful for the billions of euros in western aid it has received and will continue to receive in the framework of a solidarity pact geared to making the east more competitive.

He warned though that the current social and economic woes in the east are being misused by both left and right-wing forces to push their own agenda for next weekend's regional elections in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony.

Achievements should be recognized

"The enormous achievements that the whole country has recorded in the east’s economic recovery over the past 15 years are being belittled on purpose by some forces in our society," Botschatzki told DW-RADIO. "Let’s not forget that eastern Germany now has an extremely modern transport and telecommunications infrastructure. There are also very competitive clusters of industry in the east, like the semi-conductor centers in Dresden or the automobile industry in Leipzig."

Botschatzki also spoke of the big strides which have been made in the metal-working and electronics industries in the east. Following a downturn in productivity in the period before 1997, he said the past seven years had seen an enormous upswing in these sectors, creating more than 50,000 jobs across the east.

He added that much more could be achieved with clear political signals from Berlin. Easterners, he claimed, had proven in the past that they were willing to take their share of reforms, as long as those reforms made sense to them.

People need faith in reforms

"The current political zig-zag course, the lack of real reform prospects and the poor communication of reform efforts by the government have resulted in more and more people feeling insecure," Botschatzki said. "Confidence and faith in the government’s policies is decreasing, and that leads in the end to less stability in our democratic system."

Botschatzki added that right after German unification in 1990, easterners had hoped that living standards across the country would level out within 10 years or so. They now had to accept that this was wishful thinking. The same applied to their hopes for equal wages.

Klaus von Dohnanyi, who was commissioned by the government to work out a more effective economic program for the east, says people have to face current realities. They'll have to accept new low-wage employment opportunities rather than going on the dole.

"We have new competition also from Eastern Europe and must see that these people in East Germany are capable of making a living," he said. "And therefore we discuss the earned tax credit systems in the United States, for example, something we should add to the wages to remain competitive and at the same time have adequate living in the relatively high cost country Germany."

Von Dohnanyi has explicitly supported president Köhler's recent statement that equal living conditions will not be achieved. He said the man had the courage to speak the truth rather than stooping to populist formulas which didn’t help anyone in the country. President Köhler continues to draw massive criticism from predominantly eastern policy-makers for saying that equal living standards are nothing but a myth.

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