Creating comparable living conditions throughout the country
The German government believes that creating comparable living conditions is crucially important for social cohesion. People will only live well together if they have fair chances to participate in every aspect of live and work, irrespective of where they live. Whether people live in the town or the country, whether their homes are in the east or west, north or south of the country cannot be allowed to play a role.
To achieve comparable living conditions, the German government appointed a Commission in 2018. One year later, the Chair of the Commission, Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, and the Co-Chairs, Federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner and Federal Minister for Family Affairs Franziska Giffey set out the results and conclusions of the work of the Commission in a Plan for Germany. In July 2019, the Cabinet decided on 12 priority measures.
The Cabinet has now reviewed progress, and ascertained that many measures were launched directly and that important steps have been taken to set the scene. Here are some examples:
Nationwide system to promote structurally weak regions
Although the Solidarity Pact II expired at the end of 2019, the German government is still acutely aware of its responsibility in the field of regional policy. Since 1 January 2020, all structurally weak regions have received assistance as part of a nationwide system. All locations are to be economically successful, attractive and a good place to live, irrespective of where they lie.
Bringing jobs to structurally weak regions
To this end, the federal government has begun to relocate or establish authorities and research facilities of federal ministries in these regions. Support is also extended to private businesses, universities and associations to encourage them to settle in rural areas.
Overall the German government is currently planning about 15,500 new full-time jobs in structurally weak regions and areas affected by structural change. Of this total, about 4,300 jobs are to be created in lignite mining areas over the next 10 years.
Broadband and mobile telephony to be extended nationwide
Mobile telephony coverage is improving continuously. There is a special focus on rural areas. The aim is to provide a minimum of 99.7% of households and 95% of the national territory with mobile telephony coverage, no later than 2024, including all providers.
The roll-out of broadband connections is also being pushed. The rural-urban gap in coverage is closing. At the end of 2016 only 33.8% of rural households had access to a broadband connection offering a minimum of 50 Mbit/s, the figure had risen to 77.1% by mid-2020.
Improving mobility and transport infrastructure in rural areas
Accessibility and mobility on the ground are indispensable for comparable living conditions. The goal is to create an environmentally friendly, across-the-board, effective, affordable and user-oriented range of mobility and transport services. This is one reason why the German government has stepped up its investment in local public transport. For transport infrastructure that is the responsibility of federal government, almost 20 billion euros have been earmarked this year – marking an increase of almost 14 per cent over 2020. Rising funding for investment in national rail networks are being used to develop services, improve timing and digitalise passenger rail travel.
Strengthening villages and rural areas
The most important national instrument to foster rural areas is the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection. The federal government has significantly stepped up its investment here. In 2019, the German government provided an additional 150 million euros for the special framework plan Promoting Rural Development. In both 2020 and 2021 the figure is 200 million euros in funding. Including funding from the Joint Task, about 550 million euros have been made available this year by the German government and the Bundesländer for rural development.
Fostering engagement and volunteering
In structurally weak and rural regions it is often difficult to establish and maintain voluntary structures. That is why the German government founded the Deutsche Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt (German Foundation for Engagement and Volunteering). It offers volunteers organisational support and assistance with digitalisation. The foundation, which is based in Neustrelitz, has about 30 million euros at its disposal this year from the national budget.
Ensuring quality and participation in child daycare
Under the provisions of the Good Nursery Act (Gute-Kita-Gesetz), the German government is providing a sum of 5.5 billion euros over the period 2019 – 2022 to help the Bundesländer (federal states) improve the quality and scope of child daycare. The Commission on Comparable Living Conditions has decided that the federal government will continue to exercise its responsibility in this area after even after 2022.
The German government has put in place a special fund for extending childcare, which has provided the Bundesländer with a total of about 5.4 billion euros since 2008 under five investment programmes. The German government is also fostering qualitative aspects such as language skills and needs-driven access to early childhood education for all families.
These examples from a number of different policy areas illustrate the government’s huge commitment to creating comparable living conditions. Last year, the German government also adopted a recovery and futures package worth billions of euros to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This package will strengthen policies for comparable living conditions, although it is a project with a timeframe of a decade at least.