The subject is set to be a major one in the campaign for the May election in the country’s biggest state North Rhine-Westphalia, the paper said.
The mayors of many cash-strapped Ruhr-area cities said their eastern colleagues were able to get their budgets in order with money transferred from the west, leaving towns like Dortmund, Essen and Gelsenkirchen cutting public services because they have no money.
“The Solidarity Pact (for the East) is a perverse system that in no way is justified any longer,” Dortmund Mayor Ullrich Sierau, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) member, told the newspaper.
“You can’t explain any more why the poor cities in the Ruhr area have to go into high levels of debt in order to pay their share of the solidarity pact,” he said.
“The East is in the meantime so well positioned that they don’t know where to put their money. At home in the Ruhr area everything is falling apart.”
On Tuesday, Armin Laschet, deputy leader of the Christian Democratic Union in the state’s parliament, said the payments had to continue, saying it was important to stick to the agreement as it provided a basis for planning.
Laschet told Deutschlandfunk radio that one could only discuss dealing with the payments in a different way after 2019. In the long-term one should not spend money “according to geography” but according to need.
The current solidarity pact runs from 2005 until 2019 and provides the east German states with €156 billion in financial help. Federal, state and local governments must all pay into the fund regardless of their financial situation, the paper wrote.
Local finances across North Rhine-Westphalia are in a terrible state. Only eight of the 400 municipalities in the state have a balanced budget.
The city of Essen, for example, is €2.1 billion in debt – a third of which is due to its solidarity pact contributions. Duisburg had to borrow €500,000 over the past few years to pay its share, and even Oberhausen, the most indebted city in Germany, had to borrow €270 million for the east.
“There has to be an end with the dispersment in every direction,” Oberhausen’s Mayor Klaus Wehling told the paper.
“The solidarity pact is no longer in keeping with the times,” said Essen Mayor Reinhard Paß.
The mayors are determined to make the solidarity pact and their financial plight a key election topic. Frank Baranowski, the mayor of Gelsenkirchen and chief of the SPD in the Ruhr area, said he wanted the new state government in North Rhine-Westphalia to start an initiative in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, to get rid of the solidarity payments.
“We can’t wait until 2019,” he told the paper. He said the goal of bringing the east to the level of the west has been obtained far earlier than anticipated.
“Now is the time to concentrate on the problem areas in the west. The need is much higher here. The Ruhr area needs more investment in infrastructure and education.”
Baranowski said that people who criticize the transfer payments have often been criticized as an “enemy” of the east, but called for the topic to be discussed in a sober manner, by sticking to the facts and the economic reality of cities in the Ruhr region.