Dr. Jörg Mielke: Metropolitan Region North-West – Joined-up actions, successful business

Business focus on the maritime economy: Neustädter Hafen in Bremen.

Business focus on the maritime economy: Neustädter Hafen in Bremen.

Metropolitan regions are the engines driving societal, economic, social and cultural development. Their role is to strengthen the performance and competitiveness of Germany and Europe. In 2005, the Conference of Ministers for Spatial Planning recognised the Metropolitan Region Bremen-Oldenburg in North-West Germany as one of eleven European Metropolitan Regions in Ger­­many. However, over five years since the organisation was founded, this region would not be performing as strongly as it is today without willingness to work together. Business, administration, politics and science work together in a way seen nowhere else in Germany, in order to position and develop the North-West metropolitan region in international competition between regions.

What do the people of the North-West gain from their metropolitan region? The latest social and economic developments are increasing mutual integration between cities and the rural surrounding. This is becoming particularly clear when it comes to living and working, where jobs in the cities and housing in neighbouring communities can lead to a problematic number of commuters and housing develop­­ments “eating up” land in the surrounding country. As the central location, the city carries the image of the entire region and provides surrounding areas with services from central infrastructural facilities, especially in education, culture and health. It also offers a wide range of specialised jobs. On the other hand, the surrounding country has attractive jobs and wide-ranging eco­­­nomic development. In addition, it pro­­vides places to live and a wide range of options for leisure and relaxation, as well as providing potential building space.

A coordinated approach with shared responsibility is needed to halt the negative development trends in the cities and the region. This approach in selected fields of activity, born out of joint consultation, is the central concern of regional cooperation. This kind of cooperation between local authorities is seen as an effective instrument to help solve problems between the cities and surrounding countryside better.

Jobs and quality of life are key advantages of a location. The Bremen-Olden­­burg me­tro­­politan region combines around 13,749 square kilometres with about 2.73 million inhabitants. The peo­­ple of the North-West have never drawn the same boundaries culturally, professionally or in any other area as those which were erected by administrative law and poli­­tics. For decades, they have behaved as though it had always been a metropol­­itan region. After all, what is crucial for the citizens is that the metro­­politan region supports their interests and the living and working conditions in the North-West are im­­proved. This is what those re­­sponsible measure themselves against. The forma­­tion of efficient networks and specific implementation of many projects here represent the tan­­gible cooperation be­­tween the various interest groups – to the benefit of the people in the North-West.

Members of the society Metropolitan Re­­gion Bremen-Oldenburg in North-West Germany in­­­clude eleven rural districts, five independent cities and urban communities, six chambers of industry and commerce (IHK) and the two federal states of Bre­­men and Niedersachsen. The executive board and metropolitan assembly are made up half of represent­­atives of business and politics and half of the two states of Bremen and Nieder­­sachsen. Repre­­sentation of economic interests is organised by the IHKs in the North-West, which have also founded the “Wirtschaft pro Metropolregion e.V.” association to provide further support. These strong partners have set themselves the goal of positioning the metro­­politan region as an innovative national and European business region and strength­­ening the re­­gional potential for growth and areas of future success. The two states of Bremen and Nieder­­sachsen, the rural districts, cities and communities of the North-West work together with trust and fairness, on the same level. As well as sec­tors with particular regional characteristics, such as the food industry and the use of wind energy on land and at sea, the North-West also offers outstanding expertise in port industries and logistics, aerospace, automobile con­­struc­­­­tion, health and tourism. One of the most important factors for success in the future will be to network these cluster with the region’s outstanding science landscape in order to strengthen the innovative power of the region.

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Together the North-West is stronger. Co­­op­­eration is the key to future develop­­ment. Since the Metropolitan Region Bremen-Oldenburg in North-West Ger­­many society was founded, many initiatives and joint pro­­jects have grown out of it, such as the food industry cluster man­­agement organ­­isation “Food Nordwest”, and the “Auto­motive Nordwest” and “Ge­­sund­­heits­wirt­­schaft Nordwest” networks. The economic promotion funds of the states of Bremen and Niedersachsen and an addi­­tional project budget provide the metro­­politan region with funding to offer fi­­nan­­cial support to cooperative projects.

In European competition, the regions are now being perceived more widely as com­­peting giants than before, with the result that this regional cooperation will play an increasingly important role from this point of view, too. The title “European Metropolitan Region” is an expression of economic and political discretionary competence and represents the significance of the region as an important hub for the handling of goods and trade to and from Europe. Examples of what char­­ac­­­terises the Bremen-Oldenburg me­­tro­­politan region include tried-and-tested regional cooperation, great innovative power in science and culture and good infrastructure connections.

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Local differences are allowed. Working together in metropolitan regions certainly does not mean giving up individual identities. Especially in today’s time of globalisation, which is currently charac­­terised predominantly by a global economic and financial crisis, it is good for people to retain their own “church tower”. If it is respected that people deal with and arrange the issues on their front doorstep through self-administration in districts, this kind of parochialism is both allowed and desirable. This way of thinking would only be a hindrance to development if a suitable and just solution were found for a problem in the region, but those responsible then exer­­cised their own personal preferences. Competition between districts for the location of companies, for example, will remain. It is precisely because there are different interests that the framework of a metropolitan region is so important. Needless to say, differences of opinion or disputes between individual actors do not cast doubt on the entire construct.

Intensive cooperation at a parliamentary level and coordination of projects can also improve the representation of the region’s interests across Germany and thus the opportunity for projects to be financed by the federal government. The first step was to develop an overarching Regional Development Concept (REK) to react to the huge pressures of growth in the 1990s. The key aims of this develop­­ment concept include enabling cooper­a­tion in view of tight public budgets and a migrating population and, for example, to put public expenditure to better use by coordinating between re­­gions. Such coop­­eration also makes it easier to repre­­sent the region’s interests to decision-makers at federal, state and European level.

Pooling of forces and capacities. A metro­­politan region serves to bring together forces and capacities and find out what a region is particularly good at. Affil­­i­­a­­tions such as the Metropole Nordwest region eliminate the constant call for ever larger entities at a bureaucratic level. In defined areas, formulated in the charter in eco­­nomic and cultural matters in consultation with the federal states, the metropolitan region can support any activities which affect more than one city or district. A shared economic area has been created in the North-West, taking on in­­­ter­­national competition with confidence. Here, innovation is given new life every day.

LR_Mielke_offizielles_Foto_2012-KopieBorn in 1959, the author studied law in Göttingen. Between 1991 and 2013, Dr. Mielke worked initial­­ly as head of the legal office and then as repre­­sen­­t­­ative for construction, environ­­ment, cul­­ture and tourism in the district of Oster­­holz. He was the elected dis­­trict admin­­istrator and was also chair of Metropol­itan Region Bremen-Olden­­burg in North-West Germany. Since 2013 he has been state secretary of the state of Nieder-sachsen