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For Germans, Integration Tops Agenda

By Francine S. KieferStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 2, 1991


FOR Germany, 1991 will be the year of getting down to work. It will be the year to put the grand plans of integration, both German and to some extent European, into practice. In eastern Berlin, this means painstakingly tracing property ownership so that investors can put down roots there.

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In the southeast corner of Germany, in Dresden, it means finally rebuilding the sewage treatment plant so that the Elbe River isn't forced to absorb a third year of untreated human waste.

In Bonn, it means deciding what Germany really wants from European monetary and economic union.

Working out details can be difficult, as this year is likely to show.

It is generally accepted that the economy in eastern Germany - the country's biggest challenge - has farther to fall.

``We haven't reached the low point yet,'' says Claudia W"ormann a specialist in eastern Germany's economy at the Association for German Industry in Cologne.

The number of unemployed and reduced-hours workers has reached 2.3 million in former East Germany (out of a work force of roughly 8 million). Some economists are predicting 3 million or more this year.

Although 50 percent of industry in western Germany plans to invest in eastern Germany, the details of it all have held them up. The legal framework for buying property has been established, for instance, but getting clear title is practically impossible. Deed books lie decayed in the cellars of government buildings, are missing, altered, or have not been kept up to date.

``We have 150 firms ready to invest in our area, but they're blocked by property,'' says Martin Federlein, the deputy mayor for the neighborhood of Pankow in eastern Berlin. He hopes to find clear title to a fourth of Pankow's properties by this March, but says he lacks staff and expertise.

Another far-from-minor detail blocking investment is the telephone. Last spring, when normal lines were jammed between the two Germanys, businesses took to mobile phones, especially in Berlin. Now the mobile phone network is overloaded. Offices in the eastern and western parts of the country fax each other in the middle of the night. Or, in a few cases, they call runners at the edges of the old border who shuttle between phones on either side of the dismantled frontier.

The Bundespost, however, is working out the details as fast as a government-owned, telecommunications giant can. It has enlisted the help of the Army and of private industry in building the telephone system in eastern Germany - which won't match that in the west until 1996 or '97.

Despite this dismal picture, economist W"ormann is optimistic. She says Germany will reach, and begin to climb out of the economic valley this year. ``Some areas are already moving upward,'' she says, such as the service sector and construction industry.

``There will be a steep increase in investment this year,'' according to Ms. W"ormann, who estimates a flow of about 7 billion marks ($4.5 billion) in 1991 compared with about 3 billion marks in 1990 ($1.9 billion). The fact that there are local governments in place in eastern Germany helps, she adds. ``There is someone there to give out permits!''

LAST year, reunification was the only theme on the German agenda. But the environment is expected to return to the headlines this year, given the Herculean cleanup job to be done in eastern Germany.

``Rehabilitation of the five new German states is our highest priority,'' says Berthold Goeke, an Environment Ministry spokesman. More than 9 million people in eastern Germany are serviced with polluted drinking water; 6 million breath unsafe levels of sulfer-dioxide; only one of eastern Germany's 11,000 household garbage dumps meets the standard of western Germany.