In the central German state of Thuringia, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party is hoping to lure former residents back to their “homeland” by offering a one-off payment of €5,000 for anyone who returns to live and work in the state.
The plan was approved at the CDU state conference in Giesa on Saturday as part of its package of proposals for the upcoming state elections, with party chief Mike Mohring saying it was “an invitation to come back home and shape the future here”.
Thuringia is one of several formerly East German states which has experienced an ongoing brain drain in the three decades since Germany’s reunification, with younger residents moving to the former West in search of job opportunities and higher wages.
According to government statistics, Thuringia’s population has fallen by hundreds of thousands since reunification. The CDU has not said how many people it hopes will return under the bonus scheme.
While councils and state governments elsewhere in Europe have considered making payments to encourage immigration, most notably in Italy, the proposal is the first of its kind in Germany.
The CDU are looking to reclaim political relevance in Thuringia ahead of the state election on Oct. 27. The party had held power in Thuringia since reunification, but lost the 2014 election to a centre-left coalition. They are also concerned about losing votes to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, or AFD, which has eroded some of the CDU’s support across Germany.
The AFD picked up 23 per cent of votes in the state at the 2017 federal election, well above the national average of 12.6 per cent.
“The question is, in the future, will Thuringia be governed from the margins or the middle?” Mohring said.
Recent polls in Thuringia have the CDU at 24 per cent, trailing the left-wing Die Linke at 26 per cent but ahead of the AFD at 21 per cent.
Earlier in September, Thuringia’s Minister-President Bodo Ramelow of Die Linke lamented the state’s economic situation, saying that the former East was still seen by those in the former West “as a colony”. He ascribed the AFD’s recent ascendancy in the region at least in part to economic uncertainty.