Merkel vowed to make further efforts to remove inequalities and align eastern residents' living conditions with those of their counterparts in Germany's western regions as she and eastern state premiers visited a township near Erfurt on Wednesday.
Among those visiting 2,200-population Neudietendorf — west of Erfurt, the regional capital of Thuringia state — were three premiers facing voter discontent who are likely to be targeted by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) - formed in 2013.
Read more: east-west gap narrowing, but not fast enough
Thuringia's state assembly election takes place on October 27, preceded on September 1 by simultaneous regional polls in Brandenburg and Saxony states — regions that until reunification in 1990 were once part of communist East Germany, where guards patrolled walls and fences separating it from West Germany.
Host, Thuringia Minister President Bodo Ramelow of Germany's Left party, who currently chairs premiership conferences of Germany's five eastern states — Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania also included — said shortfalls remained in terms of pensions, wages and an unequal number of federal agency jobs in the east.
Solidarity pact funding tapering out
Germany's "Solidarity Pact II", worth €156 billion ($175 billion) and spread from 2005 to 2019, tapers out in eastern states late this year, after nearly three decades of efforts billed as modernization to fix communist-era failings.
The first pact ran from 1995 to 2004, during a wave of controversial ex-communist enterprise closures, resulting in hefty losses of workplaces that also provided status and societal inclusion.
Both pacts included federal subsidies and tax-collection dispensations within Germany's complicated fiscal equalization scheme, which is designed to share burdens between its 16 states.
Sustain subsidies, urges Brandenburg's Woidke
Brandenburg's premier Dietmar Woidke of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) said that once the current pact expired subsidies must "at least be sustained" by a new governmental commission due to be convened in the coming months.
His call was echoed by the federal government's commissioner for eastern regions, Christian Hirte of the CDU (pictured on the far right above), who said communities facing coal industry job losses would also need "special assistance."
Merkel, originally from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, said she understood the regions' emotional sensitivities "fairly well" and would also press Brussels to ensure that the the eastern states be assisted in the context of funding across the EU.
"Impatience is growing," she said, referring to Germany's eastern voters attitude toward structural differences between east and west, adding: "We must, first of all, make sure that these [gaps] do not become larger."
She acknowledged that — with the exemption of hubs such as Saxony's Leipzig — eastern states had fewer public sector jobs per capita than western states.
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In the east there were only 1.3 public sector jobs for every 1,000 residents; in the west there were 2.3, she said, adding that her federal government in Berlin had become more aware of the imbalance.
Saxony's premier Michael Kretschmer of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) governs in Dresden in coalition with the region's Social Democrats (SPD).
In Germany's 2017 federal election, the CDU in Saxony ended up slightly behind the far-right AfD.
ipj/jil (dpa, AFP, KNA)