In an interview with news agency DDP published on Friday, Tiefensee concentrated on the positive signs emerging from the long depressed region. “The east is progressing well,” he said. The transport infrastructure is being continually improved, and “the solar power industry in the east is booming, financial crisis or no financial crisis.”
“Our strategy of funding the developing branches is working. The east is ahead in the most important, most competitive worldwide markets, like renewable energy, chip and solar industry, and optoelectronics,” he added.
But Tiefensee admitted that there was still a lot to do before the former East Germany could be compared with the what was once West Germany. Unemployment rates are still double those in the west, and there is still “a considerable income gap” between east and west. On average, eastern German wages are around 73 percent of western German ones.
“We have to change that, if we want to avoid an exodus of skilled workers,” Tiefensee said. This is why he put himself in favour of a blanket minimum wage of €7.50 an hour.
The biggest exodus is in the 18 – 30 age group, with 34,000 young eastern Germans going west every year. “We have to give these people opportunities to stay, or to return, to their home states.”
For this reason Tiefensee is supporting the federal government’s regional initiatives. “I see small and medium-sized towns in the weakest regions as anchor points, which we support through the town-building programmes,” he said.