26th Sep 2023

German reunification overshadowed by migration concerns

  • Germany's reunification was celebrated in Brussels' Parc du Cinquantenaire on Thursday night (1 October) with a light show. (Photo: EUobserver)

Germany, the economic and political powerhouse of Europe, will on Saturday (3 October) mark the 25th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany after 45 years of separation in a world divided by the Cold War. But celebrations are overshadowed by a growing concern over the massive influx of migrants and refugees into the country.

Less than a year after the Berlin Wall came down and with the blessing of the United Kingdom, the USA, Soviet Union and France, Germany reunited in 1990. The event will be celebrated throughout Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gaucke and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gathering in Frankfurt.

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But celebrating the end of divisions within Germany will be overshadowed by a sense of unease about the influx of refugees, now reaching more than 200,000 a month.

Initial enthusiasm about welcoming refugees is on the wane, and the evaporating excitement along with Germany’s stretched capacity to welcome people pulled down the popularity of Merkel, who initially seemed to have encouraged migrants to go to Germany.

A Deutschlandtrend poll for public broadcaster ARD on Thursday showed 51 percent of respondents – up 13 percentage points in the past month – now say they are scared by the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany.

Merkel’s popularity slumped to its lowest level in nearly four years, reflecting growing concern over the influx of refugees.

The poll showed a nine-point plunge in Merkel's popularity to 54 percent. It was her worst rating since December 2011, the height of the Eurozone crisis.

According to the survey, 44 percent of Germans are saying that immigration brings more disadvantages than advantages for Germany, a rise of 11 percentage points from the prior month, Reuters reported.

As Merkel's approval fell, those of conservative Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer, the most high-profile critic of her refugee policy, shot up 11 points to 39 percent.

The most popular German politicians snapping at Merkel's heels are foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at 65 percent, followed by finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on 64 percent.

More than 200,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived in Germany in September alone, almost the same as for the whole of last year.

The Berlin government is expecting more than 800,000 to come in 2015.

German newspapers are comparing the significant impact of the refugee influx on the country’s character to that of the reunification’s effects.

The Wall is still in the heads

Large differences still remain between the two halves of Germany.

Official data shows that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two million fewer people live in the former East German states. And the East’s economy is still weak in comparison with the West.

At the same time, the eastern states' population aged more, as young people left for the West.

The rate of unemployment in the East is just under 12 percent, far higher than in the western states, where it stands at 6.2 percent.

Contribution to industry from the former east had recovered and climbed to 8.7 per cent of Germany's total output in 2013, still relatively low on a per capita basis, official data shows.

Disaffection with the political system appears greater in the former East German states than the more fertile ground for political offshoots, such as the anti-Islam Pegida movement, or the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland.

According to a study, in the former East, 28 percent of people said they had no confidence in democracy.

The average salary in the eastern states at 2,800 euros per month is only three-quarters of that in western states.

"Reunification takes longer than one generation," Reiner Klingholz, the director of the Berlin Institute, which carried out a study on the differences between the two Germanies, said Wednesday at the presentation of the report.

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