A Productive Visit to Germany

The urgent need for major changes in Ukraine is being spoken about almost everywhere; however, people all have totally differing opinions about it. That may well be the reason why no tangible results of a positive nature have been achieved since independence. However, how can a system be created that will enable the country to be free and self-sufficient, its regions to experience dignity and prosperity, and each individual to live the one life he or she has  in such a way so as not to look back later with bitterness and pain because of years spent without goals or gains? The answer needs to be sought thousands of kilometers away from the Pechersk hills …

For the first time in the past 24 years, some Volhynians had the opportunity to communicate objectively and effectively with distinguished representatives of key German regional-level governmental structures, who had facts and figures at their fingertips to show how an effective mechanism for interaction between people and their  elected authorities at all levels can be created.

Under the auspices of the Center for Reform NGO (of which the chairman of the board is Ihor Chornukha,  a deputy in the Regional Council and the CEO of the Lutsksantekhmontazh № 536 construction company) and with the support of its German partners, a visit took place which involved a group of Volyn deputies, heads of local governments at various levels, and public figures; for a period of one week they studied the operational experience of regional-level municipal authorities, with the two regional states (Länder) of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate in the Federal Republic of Germany being their specific model.

Working effectively within the Volyn delegation, in addition to Ihor Chornukha, were the following: Taras Yakovlev, first deputy mayor of Lutsk (who gave up part of his holidays in order to study the experience of municipal governments in the FRG); Volodymyr Danyliuk, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Volyn and director of the Forum of Ukrainian Journalists; Anatoliy Parkhomyuk, Lutsk City Councillor and head of the Office of Reform in the Volyn Region. The visit was also made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Forum of Ukrainian Journalists NGO with Youth4Media, an international association of non-governmental civic media represented by Dr. Joachim Musholt; the Bennohaus educational and cultural center in Münster; OK-TV Ludwigshafen, a regional public television station; and BVBAM, a federal union of private and educational media, represented by Dr. Wolfgang Ressmann. It should be emphasized in particular that funding the trip to Germany was set up with organizational support from the German side, and that the Ukrainian partners did not use one cent of public funds for their stay abroad.

In the course of three days of intense work, the Volhynians learned why the paramount rights held by the German Länder (analogous to the oblasts in Ukraine) in combination with the responsibilities fulfilled by municipal authorities for the successful development of their own territories and of the country as a whole are producing results in terms of the country’s development as well as that of the well-being of the citizens.

The meetings relating to the municipal-level functioning of the regional union were actually held in the city of  Münster in the state of Westphalia-Lippe (which has existed more than 200 years!), in which Georg Lunemann, the head treasurer of the organization, gave information to the visitors regarding their long-established practice of solving the various problems of their various communities (such as employing people with disabilities, allocating work to their seventeen museums, or dealing with waste management problems), with each village or town not acting all on its own, but rather working together with others in terms of sharing both powers and financial resources to achieve the best results. The figures themselves testify to the magnitude of this community’s development: it is allotted a total budget of over 3 billion euros a year!

Ulrich Schambert, President of the District Court of Münster, spoke in detail about the specific features of the German justice system at the regional level. Germany has a constitution for the nation as a whole, but in each of the Länder a system of basic laws is also in effect, so for those working in the judiciary, it is very important to keep the application of both levels of law in mind. In Germany, no branch of government has the right to interfere with the judiciary, so deputies and ministers are completely excluded from the process of appointing or dismissing judges. A great deal of work remains to be done in the area of judicial institutions, as this third branch of government is trusted within German civil society, which thus turns to the courts for decisions which are fair and which are grounded in law; without fail this is obtained. Under these circumstances, the theme of the corruption of judges which is so common in Ukraine simply does not arise, because the status of judicial officials in German society, and the appropriateness of the remuneration they receive for their work provides a guarantee that constitutional rights and freedoms at all levels will be protected in the FRG.

Detlef Plätzer, head of the municipal supervision division of the District Government of Münster focused on the work of local executive bodies. The key to dealing effectively with various tasks is not only having extensive financial resources, which are clearly present in this jurisdiction (consisting of five districts, 3 cities with a separate status and 12 amalgamated local communities), but also in having a well-conceived system of rights and responsibilities. On the one hand, it is planned that the district government would allocate budgetary funds for dealing with various programs, and on the other, it is necessary to explain to people that the populist idea of building a modern covered swimming pool in each village is unrealistic even for a country as rich as Germany.

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia was formed on the basis of the results of elections for deputies both from the constituencies and from the party lists. The ruling coalition (in our case, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party) appointed the Prime Minister and the other members of the state government cabinet, and they selected the heads and deputy executive of all five districts of the territory, which is home to almost 18 million citizens. (By way of comparison, this is equivalent to the entire population of the five states which composed the former GDR!)

Neither the Chancellor or the President of Germany has any connection with the organizing of executive authority at the regional level in Germany, which illustrates the real essence of the concept of ​​self-government on the one hand and the protection of national interests on the other, since the direction of strategy for the development of the country as a whole remains at the central level, while day-to-day issues are dealt with at the local level.

This was likewise confirmed in the course of a meeting with Gregor Hartmann, head of the Structural and Licensing Directorate South in the state [Land] of Rhineland-Palatinate (bordered on the west by France) in Neustadt. Since the land area and the population of this state is smaller than North Rhine-Westphalia, which has been referred to above, the local authorities decided to create two directorates with executive middle managers rather than five districts. It is evident that the number of officials is much smaller, but their level of efficiency is just as high. In any case, this also helps to make it possible to provide them with a reasonable salary level for their work; civil servants at the lowest level and with the smallest amount of experience receive  about 1,930 euros per month; (in Ukraine, it is equivalent to no more than 70 euros).

The Volhynians had an opportunity to observe how the North Rhine-Westphalia deputies work (along with the Netherlands) when they visited the Land parliament in Düsseldorf. Ilka Frtr. v. Boeselager and Werner Jostmeier, members of Parliament from the Christian Democratic Union group (members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party), despite their busy schedule, helped in arranging an observation of the organization of plenary sessions (where the premises could only be entered after the presentation of document identification, airport-style screening, and only in designated areas, which are under perpetual monitoring by the special services of Parliament) and told about the features of the political process where the German CDU party is in a governing coalition with the Social Democrats, but at the regional level is forced to function as an opposition political party.

Whatever their circumstances may be in this regard, all the regional-level deputies in Germany receive a reasonable salary, virtually eliminating the possibility that they would be subject to any external influence during the process of arriving at their decisions.

Detailed information regarding the formation and the practical operations of the North Rhine-Westphalia government in Düsseldorf was provided by Angela Gutmann, head of the chancellery, and the specifics of the work of the Ministry of the Interior for Infrastructure Development and Sports in Rhineland-Palatinate and in the city of Mainz, by department head Dr. Rolf Meier. In one case the Volhynians found out, for example, why the regional government leaders do not congratulate their people on New Year or Christmas in Mass-media using state funds, how all of the German Lander have the opportunity to assert their rights through their representatives in the upper house, the Bundesrat, and another example involves the principle underlying the organizing of the German police force, in which the majority of police officers (230,000) work at the level of the Land [state] and of the local authorities, with only a comparatively small number (38,000) at the national level.

In all of the meetings, without exception, the Ukrainian participants emphasized the importance of learning from the experience of German local authorities regarding their organizational patterns and their work, with a view to borrowing patterns that can be applied to Ukrainian realities; respected German politicians, public figures and government officials insisted they would increase support for Ukraine at all levels to help end the war in the east as soon as possible and to construct a genuinely democratic governing authority, with the essential element of Ukrainian nation-building and national traditions in our country.

The fact that public representatives, lawmakers and leaders of governmental institutions at various levels  play a decisive part in these processes demonstrates the practice of organizing a domestic life in Germany, where reforms were carried out immediately after the war, and where over the course of the past seventy years a country has been built up which is democratic, independent, and influential, and which is amicable towards Ukraine.

“In Germany, the mechanisms of national government and local government, and the control of these processes by the citizenry is functioning perfectly. The independence of the regions shows its effectiveness, even though each Land (oblast) works closely with the central government. Germany has a federal structure rather than a unitary one such as in Ukraine, but they have established close links between structures of authority both vertically and horizontally, where many problems can be solved mutually by neighboring regions without help from any third party. For example, when they decide whether it is necessary to build a new bridge across the Rhine River, and when a consensus has been achieved, they then find a mechanism for funding the works from various levels of government. Moreover, through their representatives in the Bundesrat (which is made up of representatives from each region, but with the number of members depending on the population) the German states can genuinely influence the policy of the central government, defending the rights of its citizens. Another important detail: each Land (oblast) elects its own parliament, where local MPs vote for their government, and this enables the regions to develop in a productive manner. Of course, in Ukraine at the present time, a federal structure could put the country’s survival at greater risk, so our country should remain unitary and indivisible. However, there are many elements of the German initiative, responsibility and autonomy that we must not only learn, but which must also be applied in our country, particularly at the level of the oblasts and that of local authorities”, said Ihor Chornukha, director of the Center of Reforms, deputy in the Regional Council, and CEO of the Lutsksantekhmontazh № 536 construction company. after the close of the enriching visit program in Germany.

Volodymyr SHRAMCHUK.

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