It is 2.46 a.m. on Tuesday morning when Federal Chancellor Scholz steps up to the microphone following the Federal-Länder consultations. Together with Hesse’s Premier Boris Rhein and Lower Saxony’s Premier Stephan Weil, he takes stock of the past nine hours. The talks centred on the topics of refugee migration and the pact on accelerating planning and approval – a central component of the “Pact for Germany”.
“We know that a lot of people come to Germany in search of protection. Not all of them are able to stay, because there’s a great deal of irregular migration to Europe and Germany,” said the Federal Chancellor in his statement. For this reason, he said, the common goal being pursued by the Federal and Länder governments was to “push back irregular migration.,” adding that this was a “historic moment”. Given the large numbers of refugees and migrants, it was vital for all levels of government to work closely together, said Scholz.
The meeting addressed the following issues: migration, acceleration of planning and authorisation in Germany’s administration, energy prices and security of energy supply, further development of the “Germany Ticket”, modernisation of the administration, hospital reforms and the financial situation of hospitals, securing the supply of medicines, the digital pact for schools and the current spread of the wolf population in Germany. Other matters discussed included the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
The main resolutions on the issue of migration
The Federal and Länder governments agree that managing refugee migration is an ongoing task for federal, state and local authorities. The Federal Government will continue to provide financial support for the federal states and local authorities in the coming years. This includes the refugee lump sum, the payment of citizens’ basic income to needy refugees from Ukraine and to recognised asylum seekers, and allowing rent-free use of federal buildings and land.
The resolutions on financing at a glance:
- In an adaptive system, the agreed fixed refugee allowance will be adapted from next year onwards to establish a per capita lump sum which will depend on the number of people seeking protection.
- From 2024, the Federal Government will pay out an annual lump sum of 7,500 euros per first-time asylum applicant with an advance of 1.75 billion euros being paid in the first half of 2024.
- The Federal Government will support local authorities in providing accommodation for refugees by continuing to allow the use of federal properties on a rent-free basis. In order to accelerate the construction of housing in tight housing markets, a special regulation is to be created that will allow deviations from planning law to enable the provision of urgently needed refugee accommodation.
The Federal Government will provide a total of some 3.5 billion euros in relief to the federal states and local authorities in 2024. If the number of new asylum applications drops significantly, the Federal Government will still pay a minimum of one billion euros per year to the federal states and local authorities as a lump sum for refugees.
The Federal and Länder governments also agreed on the following:
Acceleration of repatriations
Those who are not entitled to stay in Germany, in particular dangerous individuals and criminals, will be returned to their home countries without delay. The draft law to improve repatriation adopted by the Federal Government at the end of October contains regulations that facilitate the expulsion of traffickers and others involved in organised crime. Talks with key countries of origin will be pursued intensely and finalised soon to enable swift repatriation of individuals who do not have the right to stay in Germany.
Faster, digital processes
There will be significant acceleration of asylum procedures for nationals from countries for which the recognition rate is less than five percent. The aim is to conclude the asylum procedure and subsequent court proceedings within a period of three months. In all other cases, administrative and first-instance asylum proceedings will be completed within six months.
The digitalisation of immigration authorities will also be further expanded so as to speed up asylum procedures and further relieve the burden on immigration authorities. Hearings under the asylum procedure will take place no later than four weeks after the asylum application has been submitted. Wherever possible, online access channels will be created, the work processes of the authorities and organisations involved will be automated as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, and the storage and further processing of data will be implemented based on uniform standards.
Nationwide payment card
A standardised nationwide payment card is to be introduced. This will restrict cash payments to recipients of benefits under the Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act, thereby reducing the administrative burden on local authorities. A model for this is to be developed by 31 January 2024.
Later entitlement to citizens’ basic income, faster access to work
Incentives for secondary migration within Europe to Germany are to be reduced. The waiting period for the current automatic entitlement to social benefits and citizen’s basic income will be extended from 18 to 36 months. Up to this point, individuals will only be entitled to the usual benefits under the Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act.
Refugees with good prospects of remaining in Germany are to be quickly integrated in the labour market and find employment promptly. Integration efforts for refugees with legally secure prospects of remaining in Germany are to be increasingly focussed on finding placements for them in work or training.
Commission migration and integration management
In consultation with the federal states and with the involvement of societal groups, the Federal Government will set up a commission to look at issues relating to the management of migration and better integration.
Combating the causes of displacement
The Federal and Länder governments consider combating the causes of displacement to be a crucial factor in limiting irregular migration. The following conditions must be met in order for the measures adopted to be implemented effectively in our country:
- The influx at the external European borders is to be limited.
- The Federal Government will assess whether it is possible to conduct asylum procedures outside Europe. The aim is to see whether the protection status of refugees can also be determined in transit or in third countries in future, in compliance with the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Measures under the recently adopted reform of the so-called Common European Asylum System (CEAS) must be implemented promptly. The Federal Government remains consistently committed to this.
- A solidarity-based distribution system must be observed so as to ensure a fair and functioning procedure within the EU.
- Effective border police measures will continue to be taken at the internal borders of the Federal Republic of Germany with Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. The Federal and Länder governments will work closely together to combat people trafficking and irregular immigration.
- Except in cases of particular hardship, there will be temporary limitations on the ability of those claiming asylum to reunite with their dependants.
Making Germany fast and modern
Together with the federal states, the Federal Government has put together a comprehensive package to increase speed, prosperity and stability in Germany: the Pact for Accelerating Planning, Approval and Implementation.
A lot of official procedures in Germany are currently too slow and too bureaucratic – this has to change as quickly as possible. Planning and authorisation procedures need to be significantly accelerated: this is the only way for Germany to remain competitive as a business hub.
The Federal and Länder governments have now concluded the Pact for Accelerating Planning, Approval and Implementation, creating the basis for faster and more straightforward completion of housing construction and mobile phone expansion, as well as the modernisation of roads, railways, bridges and power grids.
To this end, procedures are to be streamlined, the law is to be updated and the number of individual review steps required for approval procedures is to be reduced – in the construction of motorways and train routes, for example. Digital solutions are to help to increase the speed and efficiency of administrative processing in the future, with the necessary legislative changes being implemented as quickly as possible.
Federal Chancellor Scholz on the Pact for Accelerating Planning, Approval and Implementation: “Building on this basis, we’re now bringing about a fundamental change by introducing an additional 100 measures in a whole range of different areas – including such things as motorways and train routes, the construction of apartments, and the conversion of attics. We’ve made changes to the procedures for installing mobile phone masts and replacing dilapidated road bridges, for example, and in all kinds of other areas that affect our day-to-day lives, too.”
Creating living space quickly and easily
In cities and municipalities where the housing market is tight, the Pact will simplify and accelerate the construction of affordable housing, with a special regulation allowing land-use plans to be waived until December 2026. This will allow for construction to go ahead much more quickly in Germany.
Enabling digital participation of citizens
The Federal-Länder pact ensures the digitalisation of planning and approval procedures across all administrative levels. One important element is the digitalisation of public participation. When a new industrial estate is planned, for example, the planning documents will now be publicised in the digital space. “In order to get things moving faster, we’re naturally looking to digitalise all processes. The aim is to draw on artificial intelligence to make our entire public structure more digital,” said the Federal Chancellor.
Rapid expansion of the mobile phone network
In order to make it easier for network operators to find locations for masts in future, reduced distance requirements will apply to roads and outside built-up areas, for example. This will improve network coverage, especially in rural areas. In addition, the idea is to allow smaller masts to be erected in future without requiring an official procedure or authorisation.
More modern roads, improved electricity grids
Germany is to have an efficient infrastructure, including modern roads, bridges, railways and a well-developed energy infrastructure with grids for supplying electricity and heat. Comprehensive legal standards are to be developed to protect endangered species and establish legal clarity so as to avoid lengthy case-by-case assessments in the area of species protection.
Administrative regulations are to be drawn up in other areas, too, such as for environmental impact assessments: this will give authorities standardised guidelines and enable them to work more quickly. Legal disputes over the construction of key railway lines will no longer have to go through several levels of jurisdiction but will be decided directly by the Federal Administrative Court, thereby saving a lot of time.
In order to be able to review the implementation of the Pact on a regular basis, the Federal and Länder governments will set up a working group that will present its initial findings in the first quarter of next year.
“Germany Ticket” to be continued
The Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder also welcomed the success of the Germany Ticket. To make local public transport even more attractive in future, the Federal and Länder governments aim to work together to develop this ticket further, simplifying it and making it more digital.
As agreed, the Federal Government will contribute half of the costs in the coming year, too, providing 1.5 billion euros. In addition, the funds available this year that have not yet been utilised are to be used for 2024. The Conference of Transport Ministers will draw up a proposal for the continuation of the Germany Ticket from 2024 onwards. On this basis, the Federal and Länder governments will agree on how the ticket will be financed in future and how the price of the ticket will be determined.
State Premiers’ Conferences (MPK) are meetings of the Heads of Government of the 16 Länder with the aim of coordinating policy. They address topics at federal and state level as well as current European and international issues. Twice a year, this is followed by the regular meeting between the state premiers and the Federal Chancellor. One federal state chairs the conference each year, subject to a predetermined sequence. The chair is currently held by Hesse.