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A map of Germany depicting demographic shifts
Germany is no longer divided, but inequalities remainImage: picture-alliance/dpa

East meets west

November 9, 2011

Over two decades since German reunification, a new official report reveals there are still big differences between the economic situation in east and west. But the government insists there is much positive development.


It's 22 years to the day since the fall of the Berlin Wall marked a major milestone en route to German reunification. A government report published Wednesday has revealed that eastern Germany still lags far behind the rest of the country when it comes to economic affairs.

In its annual report on the progress of German unification, the German government made clear that the five states that became part of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990 were still catching up with their western counterparts.

But Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich pointed to the fact that the east German gross domestic product (GDP) was increasing. GDP per capita in the former communist East Germany has climbed to around 73 percent of that in the west.

"The new states have come through the economic crisis well - particularly thanks to what has become a very stable, solid industrial structure," Friedrich said.

A queue at a job center
Many people are forced to move west, seeking workImage: AP

Wage inequality

But the report also points out that wages in eastern Germany are still well behind equivalent salaries in the west. On top of that, the average pension for those living in the east is around 89 percent of the average pension in the west.

But the number of people out of work in the east has fallen in the last 12 months. For the first time since reunification, there are well under one million unemployed people in eastern Germany. The figure is now 860,500, and Friedrich claimed that disposable income per household in the "new" German states had "practically doubled" in the last 20 years.

Friedrich pointed to the end of the nuclear era as a chance for the former East Germany to develop its energy sector. He said he hoped the new states would play a "leading role" in expanding environmental technologies.

The real story?

But the opposition political parties accused the government of whitewashing the true facts. The head of the Left party Gesine Lötzsch said that the former East Germany had become the "biggest low-wage sector in Europe," with unemployment at 10.2 percent, double the rate in the west.

The deputy premier of the eastern state of Thuringia, Christoph Matschie of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), said the government was trying to pat itself on the back. "What's still to be done has been largely left out," he said.

Fellow Social Democrat Dagmar Ziele also stressed that the social differences between East and West Germany "remained high."

The Greens, meanwhile, praised some positive aspects of the report. Spokesman Stephan Kühn said it showed the importance of "investment in people rather than concrete." He added that the government must continue to invest in education, research and development.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Ben Knight

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