Berlin The German Association of Towns and Municipalities fears that the corona crisis will increase inequalities in society. “There is a risk that more and more people will feel left behind in certain regions,” declared the President and General Manager of the municipal umbrella association, Ralph Spiegler and Gerd Landsberg, on the occasion of their annual balance sheet on Tuesday in Berlin.
However, the crisis should not lead to the “gap between poor and rich regions” widening. A child’s educational opportunities should not depend on the region in which they live, warned Spiegler and Landsberg. The same applies to childcare and the care situation in old age.
The Association of Towns therefore calls for all new laws and ordinances to be checked whether the respective projects support the goal of equal living conditions. “If we get better here, we will promote cohesion in society and create a firewall against tendencies towards radicalization,” Spiegler and Landsberg are convinced.
The appeal of the top representatives is aimed at the federal government and the states, which this Tuesday at their first switching conference of the new year are discussing an extension of the lockdown to contain the corona pandemic.
In the past few days it has already been indicated that public life will not be restarted for the time being due to the high number of infections. The majority of the Prime Minister and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) are in favor of extending the corona measures by three weeks until the end of January.
Many shops in Germany, but also schools and daycare centers, have been closed since December 16. There are also strict restrictions on, for example, private meetings. Restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities had to close several weeks beforehand. The aim of the measures is to avoid contact between people and thus avoid infection with the coronavirus.
Pandemic could change city centers and town centers
The federal and state governments had decided on the hard lockdown in mid-December, initially until January 10th. Even then, there were voices that considered an extension with a view to the corona situation to be likely.
The consequences of the corona pandemic pose immense challenges for citizens, the economy and government budgets. “The corona pandemic hit us with full force on all levels last year,” said City Association President Spiegler. The all-clear could not yet be given, the restrictions for business and people would continue in the new year 2021, at least in the first half of the year.
The municipal association was alarmed by forecasts by the German Retail Association, which assumes that over 50,000 retailers will have to give up in the coming months due to the continuation of the lockdown. That will change the inner cities and town centers. “If we are not careful, we will no longer recognize them after the pandemic,” warned Spiegler and Landsberg.
Therefore, in addition to the already existing aid programs, an additional set of instruments must be created to support the renovation of the centers. “We need more quality of life and amenity in cities and municipalities and we have to start converting them to meet the requirements of sustainability and climate protection,” declared the municipal leaders.
Call for “investment priority law”
However, the municipalities would also have to be well equipped financially in order to be able to initiate the necessary investments. “That is why we are calling for another rescue package for 2021 to compensate for trade and income tax losses,” said Spiegler and Landsberg.
In order to be able to quickly implement climate protection measures, the Association of Cities also considers legislative measures to be necessary. Legal protection and species protection are important. “But planning and approvals take too long for us,” said Spiegler and Landsberg.
A “priority investment law for projects that, like climate protection, serve the common good” is therefore necessary. For example, the necessary power lines for renewable energies, rail lines or infrastructure projects necessary for municipal development should have priority over individual interests.
At the same time, the municipal leaders warned against overwhelming the state with a “fully comprehensive mentality”. The aid measures by the federal, state and local governments often gave the impression that the state could do anything and anywhere. In this context, Spiegler and Landsberg criticized the fact that politics was constantly discussing and promoting new legal claims, often at the expense of the municipalities.
As examples, they cited the legal right to free all-day care at school, the legal right to an unconditional basic income, an unlimited right to home office and a legal right to “Internet access right down to the last milk jug”. These are all correct requirements, but they cannot be met overnight. Especially since the state can only distribute what it has previously received through taxes.
Against this background, the municipal leaders demanded “a trend reversal and an honest admission that the corona crisis has made us financially, permanently and sustainably poorer”. With a view to the upcoming election campaigns, they expressly warned against ever new and more costly election promises. Rather, everything must be done to ensure that the welfare state remains efficient and affordable.
More: Read here why there is a federal mess at school start.