German Lawmakers Re-Open Berlin-Bonn Debate | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.11.2008
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German Lawmakers Re-Open Berlin-Bonn Debate

The continued division of Germany's government between Berlin and Bonn has long been a contentious issue. But now lawmakers seem to have started a process that could lead to a complete move of government to Berlin.

A city sign with the word Bonn crossed out at the bottom and Berlin with an arrow leading to it on top

Is it time for the government to bid farewell to West Germany's former capital for good?

The parliament's budget committee this week called for a review of the current situation, which essentially splits government between Berlin and the former West German capital, Bonn.

Committee members have also asked the government to submit an annual report on the costs of keeping to seats of government. The report will also have to include information on whether the Berlin-Bonn divide prevents more effective government.

"The slope from Bonn to Berlin has become even more slippery," Petra Merkel, a Social Democratic member of the committee from Berlin, told Berliner Zeitung.

Split down the middle

The so-called Berlin-Bonn law, which was passed in 1994, requires that Germany's government is split up between the two cities. While some 9,000 civil servants still work in the former capital, a little less than 9,000 have made the move to Berlin so far.

A Henry Moore scultpture outside the former West German chancellery in Bonn

The development minstry is now housed in the former chancellery in Bonn

Only nine of Germany's 14 ministries actually have their headquarters in Berlin. The rest -- the ministries of defense, research and education, environment, economic cooperation and development, and health -- are still keeping their main office in Bonn.

Supporters of the law argue that moving Germany's capital to Berlin severely hurt Bonn and that the western Germany city had to be compensated for that. Opponents of a divided seat of government, however, say that this slows down business and that Bonn has been rewarded with the headquarters of major companies, including Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post, which make up for the loss.

According to the news reports, members of the budget committee also noted that any negative effects of the decision to move the capital from Berlin to Bonn had been eliminated by now.

Leaving it up to ministries?

A stewardess gives drinks to passengers

German civil servants spend a lot of time in planes these days

"Ministries should decide themselves where and how they work," said Markus Loening, a member of the opposition Free Democratic Party, adding that Germany's government should no longer be forced to keep offices in both cities.

Members of Germany's opposition Left Party also said they saw the move as a "little step in the right direction," but didn't support it, because it didn't go far enough.

Germany's Association of Taxpayers said that this was the beginning of the end of the Berlin-Bonn divide.

"It's only a question of time until the division will be overcome," said the association's executive director, Reiner Holznagel, according to Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Money's not an issue

An aerial view of the Berlin government quarter

More ministries could be built near the government quarter in Berlin

Representatives of Berlin's government welcomed the committee's request, saying that a complete move to Berlin would bring much-needed qualified personnel to the city. Bonn city officials declined to comment, according to Der Tagesspiegel. In its Saturday edition, the newspaper also pointed out that the government already owns several vacant lots in Berlin that could be used to build new ministries.

A complete move, however, would not be saving the country much money. The constant travelling of civil servants between the two cities costs the taxpayer between 8.8 million and 23 million euros ($10.9 and $28.7 million) per year. A complete move would likely cost billions.

Opponents of the move say that for that kind of money, Germany's civil servants could be flying back and forth between the two cities for up to 100 years.

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