Mayors Attack Solidarity Pact: Poor Western Cities Fed Up with Funding East

Closed swimming pools, potholed streets, run-down buildings. Many western German cities, especially in the industrial Ruhr rust belt, are looking worse for wear after years of neglect in which they've had to transfer billions funds to help rebuild the former communist east. Now their mayors want to stop paying.

The disused gas holder at Oberhausen, a Ruhr region town in western Germany. Zoom
DPA

The disused gas holder at Oberhausen, a Ruhr region town in western Germany.

The mayors of highly indebted industrial cities in western Germany have demanded an end to transfer payments to the former communist east, insisting that more than 20 years after unification, the task of building up the eastern economy and infrastructure has been completed.

Eastern Germany is to receive a total of €156 billion ($206 billion) in financial help over the period 2005 until 2019 under the Solidarity Pact II program which obliges the national and regional governments as well as municipalities to make payments regardless of their own financial situation.

In the industrial Ruhr region of western German, which has been struggling to make ends meet for years as a result of the decline of its traditional coal and steel industries, the transfers have forced cities to run up major debts.

The city of Eseen, for example, has €2.1 billion in debt, of which a third stems from solidarity pact contributions, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Tuesday. Duisburg, another Ruhr city, has borrowed half-billion euros in recent years to finance its Solidarity contributions.

Oberhausen has had to borrow €270 million. "There must be an end to this geographical redistribution," said the city's mayor, Klaus Wehling.

'A Perverse System'

The mayor of Dortmund, Ullrich Sierau, told Süddeutsche: "The Solidarity Pact is a perverse system that has no justification whatsoever anymore." He said it was impossible to explain to local citizens why the poor cities of the Ruhr should be running up large debts to come up with their share of the Solidarity Pact.

The mayor of Gelsenkirchen, Frank Baranowski, demanded that the Solidarity Pact be abolished. "We can't wait until 2019," he told Süddeutsche. "The east is now so well positioned that they don't know what to do with all the money. And we in the Ruhrgebiet are in dire straits. There is much greater need here. The Ruhr region needs more investment in infrastructure and education."

The aim of the pact had been to raise the infrastructure in the east to western standards. "That was achieved much more quickly than we had imagined," said Baranowski.

Hundreds of billions of euros have been pumped into the east, which now boasts modern motorways, brand new shopping malls and painstakingly refurbished town centers. By contrast, many western towns are looking worse for wear after years of neglect.

The demands could become a campaign topic ahead of the North Rhine-Westphalia state election on May 13. The state, Germany's largest by population with some 18 million inhabitants, is home to the Ruhr region. The early election was called last week after the center-left minority government collapsed after losing a budget vote.

The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the state rejected the calls for an abolition of the pact. Armin Laschet, deputy CDU floor leader in the state parliament, said it was important to stick to agreements in order to provide planning certainty.

cro -- with wire reports

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