State Reforms: How Many German States Should We Have?

Priwall Beach, located west of the former East and West German border at Travemunde. Photo taken in October 2013

Since 3rd October, 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany has been in existence, featuring the states of the former West Germany and those of East Germany (or better known as the German Democratic Republic). This includes the largest state, Bavaria, which is as big as the entire state of Iowa but is also the richest of the 16 states. We also have Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse, two of the most populous states and known as the hot spots for jobs. Then we have the former East German States of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. And lastly, we have the city-states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, the third of which is the nation’s capital. Then we have Saarland, one of the poorest states in the union and the source of the recent proposal brought forth by Minister Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Her proposal: to reduce the number of states to six to eight instead of the original 16 states. The source: The Solidarity Pact, which runs out in less than five years.

To summarize: the Solidarity Pact, signed into law in 1990, required that the rich states, namely in case, Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg to provide financial support to the other German states, to ensure that the states can be provided with enough capital to survive and avoid a financial disaster, similar to what we saw with the Great Crisis six years ago in the US and the EU. Yet Hesse and Bavaria do not want to carry the burden of these states anymore and with Saarland having the highest debt of any state in Germany, it is not surprising that Kramp-Karrenbauer is proposing such measures, one that is deemed radical and absurd among conservatives, especially in Bavaria, but given the trend in the European Union with states giving up more of their autonomy for a rather transparent one, it is not a surprise. This is especially given the attempts of states to cooperate together to consolidate their resources.

Let’s look at the former East Germany, for example. Since 2004, consolidation in the private sector as well as cooperation within public sector has been under development. This includes the merger of the health care insurance provider AOK in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as cooperation and consolidation attempts among academic institutions at the universities in these three states. Furthermore, cooperation between Berlin and the state of Brandenburg in the private and public sectors have resulted in ideas and ways to integrate the capital into Brandenburg. Even a referendum was put up to a vote, which was rejected by Berliners and Brandenburgers alike.  In both examples, it is clear that because of the substantial demographic changes that have been witnessed since German Reunification in 1990, combined with poor job market possibilities that the long-term goal is to consolidate the states into one entity. That means Berlin would belong to Brandenburg and thus lose its city-state status, yet it would still be the national and state capital, a double-task that is not welcomed by many in both areas. As for the other states, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia would become Mitteldeutschland, with either Leipzig or Dresden being the capital and the other “former” state capitals becoming the seats of the districts. This concept is also not welcomed by many in these regions because of the potential to lose thousands of jobs in the consolidation process, combined with the closing of several institutions in the public sector. Attempts have already been tried with the university system in these three states, which were met with protests in the tens of thousands.

But the problems do not lie just in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, let alone the Mitteldeutschland area. The attractiveness of the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wurrtemberg and Hesse has resulted in a shift in population and businesses to these regions from areas in northern and eastern Germany, thus causing a strain in the social resources available in both areas. Northern states are battling high unemployment and social problems, whereas southern states are struggling to keep up the demand for housing.  While the Solidarity Pact has had its advantages, especially in the eastern part of Germany, where cities like Halle (Saale), Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Berlin have undergone a major transformation from becoming run-down Communist cities to modern cities with historic nostalgia (reliving the days before Hitler took power and brought Germany to a blazing inferno known as World War II), there is still work to be done in terms of dealing with problems of unemployment, influx of immigration and the struggles to accommodate people, attracting jobs for all and improving education standards in school as well as in the university. The solidarity pact was a good project, but with states on both sides of the former Cold War border struggling to relieve the burden of debt and social problems, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan just might be that remedy Germany really needs. With less autonomy because of its interwoven policies of the European Union, there is really no need for all 16 states to function individually, receiving money from the rich states in order to survive.

This leads to the question of how to consolidate the German states. As it would be absurd to give up its city-state status, Berlin should remain an individual entity, receiving its funding from all the German states, but being ruled by the federal government- not the city government itself. It has been done in Washington, DC, as well as Monaco and Singapore. Losing its city-state status would be as preposterous as Washington becoming part of either Maryland or Virginia. James Madison and his forefathers would rise from their graves and make sure that proposal would never happen. So, as Germans would say it: “Finger weg vom Berlin!” As for Hamburg and Bremen, their financial and social woes have put a strain on their resources in general. Hence a merger with another German state would be both inevitable and beneficial.

But how to consolidate the other states is very difficult because the financial resources lie in the south and west of Germany. Henceforth it is impossible to anchor the rich states with the poor ones, with the possible exceptions of Bavaria merging with Saxony and Thuringia, Hesse merging with North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and Baden Wurttemberg merging with Saarland and Rhineland Palatinate.  That would still leave the problem with Schleswig-Holstein, the three German city-states, and the remaining states that had once been part of East Germany because no financial beneficiaries would be found to govern the region. Therefore anchoring the rich with the poor is out of the question.  Also out of the question would be the old historic borders, where we have one large state of Saxony (instead of Upper, Lower and Anhalt Saxony), Thuringia becomes part of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia takes over Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland, and Baden Wurrtemberg takes Hesse. Financially, the equilibrium would point clearly to the fourth region proposed here, thus putting the others at a mere disadvantage.  Ideally would be to combine geography and finances so that the equilibrium is firmly established and everyone would benefit from it. That means, instead of having 16 states, one could see three giant German states and Berlin having its own district.  While this proposal would be even more radical than that of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s, given the current situation in Germany, this alignment may be inevitable as financial and domestic problems as a result of lack of resources come to a head in 20 years at the most.

Here’s one of the proposal that should be considered:

Süddeutschland: Consisting of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Capital would have to be in the central part of the new state, such as Erfurt, Leipzig or Nuremberg. Munich would have its own city-state status.

Norddeutschland: Consisting of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Hamburg and Bremen. Capital should be located in Hamburg, Hannover or Lübeck. Frankfurt would keep its financial headquarters in tact.

Westdeutschland: Consisting of Baden-Wurttemberg the states along the Rhine, including Saarland. Capital would be in Cologne. Stuttgart would be one of the district capitals along with Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Freiburg im Breisgau, Coblence and Saarbrücken.

One can go with Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal of 6-8 states, but it should be noted that if two states consolidate, one should be the stronger one supporting the weaker one(s) but as long as the resources are pooled and the people will benefit from the merger. The last option would be to abolish all 16 states and have one Germany which has control over the entire country. This may be too communistic for the taste of many people, and some people may compare this to the period of the Third Reich. But with Germany being more and more part of the European Union, that option may also be brought onto the table in German Parliament.

But to sum up, the idea of having less German states is the most viable option in order for the German states to remain healthy. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s idea may sound absurd, but it may become inevitable as Germany becomes more integrated into the EU, which may be more of a blessing than a curse. The question is how to redraw the bounderies. What do you think? Should Germany be reduced in half? Perhaps in three giant states? How would you redraw the boundaries of the Bundesrepublik? Share your thoughts here as well as in the Files’ facebook pages and help Kramp-Karrenbauer push her agenda to the politicians in Berlin keeping in mind the risks and benefits the proposals may bring.

2013 Flood Aftermath: What’s next?

Here are some good news and bad news with regards to the Great Flood of 2013: We’ll start off with the good news, first: the giant wave of floodwaters of the Elbe and Danube Rivers have entered their respective mouths- Elbe emptying into the North Sea and the Danube in the Black Sea. And while that is a sign of relief for many people living near the river, the one has to keep in mind that it is not safe to enter the homes to clean-up, especially in areas of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein where the 200 meter wide Elbe became a lake 40 kilometers wide, sinking many villages, setting records in Lauenburg, Wittenberge, Lüneburg and Fischbek, and destroying livelihoods. It didn’t need the destruction of the Elbe Dam north of Magdeburg, the misalignment of the ICE-rail line between Berlin and Hannover, the sinking of three ships to close a 300 meter long dike breech that drowned Fischbek and the destruction of a dike near Barby where the Saale and Elbe meet to drain the floodwaters in the fields to realize how bad the Great Flood of 2013 really was.

Now comes the question of what’s next. Politicians are reluctant to help, donations are low, and many people affected are asking themselves whether they should have made that decision to better protect their homes and communities that were washed out by the Great Flood of 2002. Others are thinking of moving to higher ground. In either case, two major floods in 11 years should serve as a sign that a change in livelihood is unavoidable, meaning we should change before it is done to us, and when it happens, it will not be to our best advantage.

Using a new App, Audioboo, I’ve made a summary and a pair of questions for the Forum for you to consider (and of course answering either through the Comment section or through Twitter, Facebook or Pininterest.) You can access the Frage für die Forum by clicking on the title below.

The Flooding Question- Flensburg Files Frage für die Forum

Further updates on the flooding can be found here:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/flut-sonderfonds-bund-und-laender-einigen-sich-auf-milliardenhilfe-a-906642.html

http://www.dw.de/german-flood-prevention-still-cant-prevent-floods/a-16876765

http://www.dw.de/german-town-of-wittenberge-fights-floods/a-16875233

http://www.ndr.de/regional/hochwasserindex105.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/hannover/bahnfahrplan101.html

Flood Update: Records fall in Magdeburg and Wittenberge; Solidarity Pact used for flooding

Skyline in Magdeburg. Photo taken in Feb. 2011

 

Records set in Magdeburg, Wittenberge, Hitzacker; Hamburg prepares for Elbe, Solidarity Pact for Reconstruction of Region

Imagine this photo of the city of Magdeburg. It’s a fantastic community with 300,000 people with many bridges, churches (like the Magdeburg Cathedral) and the Hochwasserhaus, one of only two in the world that one can see. This photo was taken at sundown from the eastern bank of the Elbe River at a park.  Now imagine this scenery again but with water filled to the brim.

Residents, crew members and volunteers have been fighting windmills in keeping the violent waters of the Elbe from overflowing its banks, which would have caused substantial and irreparable damage to Magdeburg’s city center. Yet the battle has not been easy, as dikes have bursted and many suburbs of the city had to evacuate tens of thousands. 40% of the city center was under water. Even the rail lines connecting the city, its neighbor Stendal, and the likes of Berlin, Hannover and Oldenburg had to shut down due to water flowing over the Elbe River bridges.  The good news, if there is any right now, is that the water levels are finally going down. Yesterday morning, the city set a new record for flooding at 7.48 meters, more than half a meter higher than the record set in 2002.  In other places, records fell in places, like Stendal, Wittenberge (9.8 meters)  and Hitzacker (9.6 meters), with more to come in the next 24-48 hours in Lueneberg, Lauenberg and even Hamburg.  Most of the records that have fallen were the ones set in 2002, which has many people awing in amazement but scrambling to determine how often such mass floodings will take place. Already Saxony’s minister  Stanislaw Tillich is planning a conference on 19 June to talk about future planning to combat floods like this one. More information with a Frage für den Forum to come once the conference is finished.  But the flooding has already caused many politicians to criticize the current situation in Berlin. For instance:

Solidarity Pact to be Reinforced and used for Reconstruction:

Reiner Haseloff Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt is pushing for all 16 German states to put aside money for the reconstruction efforts in the flood-ravaged region. The Solidarity Pact, created in 1991 was designed for rich German states to pay money to those that are in financial need. This came under fire by the ministers of Hesse and Bavaria who wanted to reduce the amount of money contributed to these states, claiming that the money should be spent for their projects in their own state. Baden-Wurttemberg is the other state that is helping the other 13 states out, but has had no issues with this solidarity pact, according to minister,  Winfried Kretschmann. This pact, together with the Solidarity Pact with the eastern half of the country, scheduled to expire in 2019, will be hot topics on the agenda for the coming weeks for Germany will have to find a way to rebuild on its own. The European Union announced that funding for the solidarity pact established in 2002 has been exhausted due to the bailouts given to southern Europe, including Cyprus, Spain and Greece.

 

Hamburg prepares for the Worst:

Even in Hamburg, city officials are bracing the Elbe and its record-breaking water levels. Even though officials are expecting water levels to rise 2.5 meters with a dike constructed to withstand levels of up to 3.5 meters, people living in low-lying areas are being asked to move to higher ground for safety purposes. The unknown factor that is making many Hamburgers nervous is how high will the Elbe go and how the dikes will withstand the pressure from the river, which has been responsible for punching holes in dikes, especially in the area where it meets the Saale at Barby and Magdeburg. The river is expected to crest by week’s end.

Note: Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have the latest on the 2013 Floods and the Bridge Disasters in its own article. Good news is unlike the 2002 Floods, there were as many bridges destroyed as feared. But some notable ones, mainly in Saxony, are either destroyed or damaged beyond repair and are scheduled to be replaced.

 

More information on the latest regarding the flooding can be found here:

http://www.abendblatt.de/vermischtes/article116941024/Historische-Hoechststaende-fuer-Lauenburg-vorhergesagt.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/schleswig-holstein/lauenburg241.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/elbhochwasser159.html

http://www.thelocal.de/national/20130316-48565.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.dw.de/top-stories/germany/s-1432

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/finanztransfer100.html

http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/staedtetagpraesident-maly-solidarpakt-muss-sich-grundsaetzlich-aendern/8121350.html