Commission for "Equivalent living conditions" - Conclusions and measures taken by the Federal Government

"Equivalent living conditions" was the focus of the work of the Commission of the same name, which was established last autumn with Federal Minister Horst Seehofer (BMI) as chair and Federal Ministers Julia Klöckner (BMEL) and Dr Franziska Giffey (BMFSFJ) as co-chairs.

"Equivalent living conditions" was the focus of the work of the Commission of the same name, which was established last autumn with Federal Minister Horst Seehofer (BMI) as chair and Federal Ministers Julia Klöckner (BMEL) and Dr Franziska Giffey (BMFSFJ) as co-chairs.

The Commission was composed of all 16 federal ministries, the three federal commissioners, all 16 federal states (Länder) and the three umbrella associations of the districts, towns and local authorities. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) acted in the Commission as the “advocate” of rural areas. Six technical working groups addressing different thematic areas were set up within the Commission - ranging from technical and social infrastructure to the municipalities’ financial situation.

After half a year of intensive work, the technical working groups had drawn up reports setting out recommendations for action. On this basis, the three presiding ministries drew up main conclusions for the need for action at Federal Government, Länder and local authority levels.  As a first step, the Federal Government adopted a package of measures on 10 July 2019 that initiated key processes in different policy fields.

The following outcome is particularly important for the BMEL and rural areas:

  • Strengthening villages and rural areas. Many villages and small towns are attractive and vibrant. But this is not the case everywhere. Vacant buildings, cutbacks in services and the outflow of young people affects many regions and places in Germany - too many. We are therefore placing the focus on making these villages more vibrant. We are not taking this approach to work against cities and conurbations but to ease pressure on them. This serves to reinforce cohesion within society and the regions and lowers the high costs arising from urban growth and densification.
  • From next year onwards, funds in the order of EUR 200 million will become available under the Special Framework Plan for Rural Development in addition to the regular Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK), corresponding to an increase of EUR 50 million compared with 2019. We want to focus rural development investment promotion more strongly on accessible basic public services, attractive and vibrant town centres and the elimination of vacant buildings. Aid must therefore be needs-based and not spread too thinly.
  • No future without digitalisation: a speedy establishment of digital infrastructure with universal coverage is especially important for rural regions. Germany must no longer be a country with two speeds in rural and urban areas. The Federal Government therefore wants to take greater ownership for the expansion of fibre optics and mobile communications in areas where it is unprofitable for companies.
  • Schools, doctors and other services must be physically accessible to everybody. The Federal Government's aim is therefore to have widespread, efficient public mobility services, not just along trunk routes.
  • Active citizenship and volunteering play a key role for our society - notably in rural villages and regions. Together with the German Volunteering Foundation we want to support services and digital transformation in structurally disadvantaged areas and rural regions.
  • The Federal Government will, in future, examine all legislative projects specifically for their impact on the equal opportunities of rural and urban dwellers ("Equivalence check"), thus placing great emphasis on the concerns of rural areas in the legislative process.

By adopting its cabinet decision of 10 July 2019, the Federal Government has now taken a step forward. This should also send out a positive signal for the further process: the conclusions from the “Equivalent living conditions” Commission will be discussed with the Länder and municipal umbrella associations after the summer break.

Atlas of Germany by the BMI, BMEL and BMFSFJ

Creating equivalent living conditions in Germany has long been an important task for BMEL policies and for the monitoring and research conducted by the Thünen Institute. In late 2016, the Atlas of Germany was for the first time published and posted online, thereby providing a valid database on living conditions in Germany and its rural areas that can be researched online. The Thünen Institute and the BBSR have developed over 50 indicators on living, working and residing in Germany for the Atlas of Germany

The maps clearly show how different our country and its regions are - whether in terms of land use or demographic development, income or the accessibility of shops, schools and hospitals. Good monitoring is the best basis for creating equivalent living conditions by means of targeted and effective structural policies.

Attractive rural villages and regions are a prerequisite for equivalent living conditions in urban and rural areas. Vacant buildings and a lack of basic public services are pressing problems in many places. Together with the Länder, the BMEL can use the GAK support schemes and the special framework plan to counter this trend at regional level in a way that is tailored to meet people's needs. Innovative solutions in this respect are being developed and tested under the Federal Rural Development Scheme (BULE).

The database developed by the Thünen Institute and the BBSR will be updated in the future since equivalent living conditions cannot be created overnight but need staying power.

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