Reunification on 3 October 1990 was the most momentous political event of post-war German history. With the adoption of the accession treaty, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) joined the political and economic system of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Looking back on the first decade of a unified Germany, it is apparent that the domestic policy challenges were significantly underestimated in the initial period of enthusiasm following the 'silent revolution' which swept the GDR during 1989. Ten years on, the economic problems have still not been resolved, with unemployment rates averaging 19.5 per cent in the Eastern areas. Nor has social integration been achieved. Behind the defeat of the Christian Democrat/Free Democrat coalition government at the general elections in September 1998, after sixteen years of rule, lay a widespread belief that Germany required significant political and social reform across a range of policy areas.
Germany is a federal republic with sixteen federal states ('Bundesländer', eleven West German and five East German), and more than 14,000 municipalities. Federal elections to parliament every four years are complemented by elections to the parliaments of the Bundesländer and to municipal councils. After the 1998 election the Social Democrats, in coalition with Bündnis 90/the Greens formed the national government. The economic system is described as a 'social market economy' which emerged in 1947 to fight the devastation of World War II by combining the market mechanism with social elements. The concept was successfully implemented, resulting in the German post-war economic boom (Wirtschaftswunder).
A number of basic elements provide the background to German engagement with sustainable development, including high population density, a high degree of industrialization, a large proportion of environmentally problematic industries, intensely industrialized agriculture, a dense transport