Königsteiner Key: How fair is the distribution of refugees?


As of: November 3rd, 2023 11:59 a.m

Not only in Europe, but also in Germany, refugees are distributed very unevenly. Criticism comes primarily from the city states and is directed towards the south: Bavaria needs to take in more people.

Torben Ostermann

It is well known that refugees are distributed differently in Europe. But here too, some federal states are more heavily burdened than others. The way in which refugees are distributed in Germany comes up for discussion at regular intervals.

Just a few weeks ago, Berlin’s Integration Senator Cansel Kiziltepe called for changes to the distribution mechanism. From the SPD politician’s point of view, a special rule is needed for densely populated city states.

Andreas Bovenschulte, mayor of the smallest city state of Bremen, made similar comments. The SPD politician calculated that his federal state would take in just 15 percent more refugees than it actually had to. The situation is similar in Hamburg.

The crux with the Königstein key

Which federal state accepts how many asylum seekers depends on a place in the Taunus region of Hesse. There, in the town of Königstein, a distribution mechanism for the West German federal states was developed for the first time in 1949. While back then it was about a fair distribution of research grants, today the so-called Königstein key is used for all possible distribution issues. This also applies to the question of how migrants are distributed in Germany. The federal states are weighted according to their tax revenue and population size.

For years, scientific studies have shown that the Königstein Key is a partially unfair system. The German Institute for Economic Research comes to the conclusion that there is actually no longer any justification for continuing to use the outdated distribution mechanism.

There have recently been repeated calls, especially from city states, to reduce admission rates on the grounds that there is less space available in urban environments. For years, Hamburg, Berlin and Bremen in particular have criticized the distribution of refugees according to the Königstein Key. They see themselves as more burdened and look south at the accusation.

The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder in particular feels addressed there. According to the CSU politician, he doesn’t believe in debates about why city states should accept fewer people than other countries. And in general, Bavaria paid ten billion euros into the state financial equalization system. Bavaria can also expect this solidarity from other countries when it comes to distribution.

A look at the numbers makes it clear why Bavaria, in particular, has little interest in a new distribution mechanism. Strong Bavaria, of all places, accepts one of the fewest asylum seekers per capita.

Who bears what burden?

Bavaria is in second place among all federal states with around 35,500 asylum applications submitted from January to September this year – only North Rhine-Westphalia had more applications with almost 47,800, as figures from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees show.

However, measured in terms of population, at the end of last year most of those seeking protection – i.e. asylum seekers in the process, but also rejected asylum seekers – lived in the city states of Bremen (6.3 percent), Hamburg or Berlin (both 4.8 percent).

For comparison: In Bavaria and Brandenburg the proportion was the lowest in Germany at 2.8 percent. An interactive one Graphic from the Federal Statistical Office provides even more data: According to this, the Bavarian districts of Freyung-Grafenau, Coburg and Bayreuth had the lowest percentage of 1.3 in Germany in 2022. But the situation is different in larger Bavarian cities, such as Hof (7.6 percent) and Bayreuth (8.2 percent).

Upon request, the Federal Statistical Office explains how the differences can arise: Refugees are accommodated in initial reception centers after their arrival. “This can lead to a regionally high proportion of people seeking protection – especially in rural areas.” How long they stay there depends on the state. After the initial reception, the distribution to the federal states takes place according to the Königstein key.

No control of the Internal migration possible

The further distribution to the states according to the Königstein Key takes time, says Uwe Brandl, President of the German Association of Cities and Municipalities. If asylum seekers with protection status are recognized, residency requirements and residence requirements can be waived. Many people then move to cities like Hamburg because “their own compatriots live there,” says Brandl. Internal migration within Germany cannot be controlled due to the current legal situation.

When asked, the Federal Statistical Office confirmed this and added: “The Königstein key is of more short-term significance for the spatial distribution of those seeking protection.”

Mayors and district administrators all over Germany have been sounding the alarm for weeks: the more people come, the greater the need for accommodation becomes. Tents, former vaccination centers, containers and even ships act as emergency shelters. The many initial applications in Bavaria due to the proximity to the border are a problem, says Brandl, “because the initial contact stations are overcrowded.”

No change to the distribution mechanism in sight

Brandl doubts whether another mechanism could help with a fairer distribution within Germany. To do this, the government would have to restrict freedom of settlement and movement in the constitution, which would be a significant intervention. For example, distributing refugees within Germany based on criteria such as available living space, economic strength or available jobs would offer “additional explosives,” said Brandl.

Discussions with those responsible at the federal and state levels make it clear that something will change in the distribution system in the foreseeable future. The interests are too different and a majority for reform is currently hardly conceivable. That is why the Prime Ministers also adhere to the Königstein Key in their decisions.

Bayern: “Don’t need a new one distribution key”

For the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, the discussion about distribution within Germany doesn’t go any further: “We don’t need a different distribution key, but rather a reduction in the number of new refugees,” said the CSU politician.

The federal states also agree on this: They are demanding, among other things, more commitment from the federal government in deportations, more money for municipalities and the consideration of a nationwide payment card for refugees.

Expectations are therefore high for the upcoming Prime Minister’s Conference with the Federal Chancellor on the subject of migration: there is no need for new working groups or advisory committees, says the Bavarian Interior Minister. “The Chancellor has made big announcements in the last two weeks that new decisions are needed and that significantly more rejected refugees will have to leave Germany again. These are all just announcements,” said Hermann.

The federal states would now expect concrete decisions and agreements – because the current situation is more than tense in all municipalities nationwide.

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