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The Chambers of Commerce and Industry for Essen,
Mülheim on the Ruhr and Oberhausen in Essen
A Chamber District and Structural Changes
The structural changes in the economy occurring in the district served by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Essen, Mülheim on the Ruhr, Oberhausen in Essen are not limited to the past four decades. Rather, they are the most recent manifestation of a process that can be observed since the Chamber's founding in 1840. The chamber district can be seen as a focus of the overall development of the Ruhr region. This district, which had a primarily agrarian structure at the beginning of the 19th century, was transformed during the latter half of the century into a metropolitan area dominated by heavy industry, i.e. by coal, iron and steel. This one-sided orientation toward the mining industry persisted until the 1970s. Since the 1980s there has been a growing shift in emphasis from the industrial to the service sector. This transformation process has initiated a new phase in the economic development of the chamber district.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry - Past and Present
The chambers of commerce and industry have two important roots, both going back to the 19th century: the Franch "chambres de commerce" and the cooperation between tradespeople. The cooperative element was more pronounced in the cooperative trade associations than in the "chambres de commerce", which had a more budgetary orientation. The establishment of a chamber of commerce system by the government of Prussia after l830 - a delayed consequence of the trade promotion policies initiated in the l820s - and the standardization of these chambers under the Prussian Law on Chambers of Commerce enacted in l848, the year of the German revolution, combined the important structural features of the "chambres de commerce" and the cooperative trade associations into a new Prussian type of chamber of commerce based on the principle of compulsory membership.
This type of chamber of commerce was supposed to serve as a model for the other German states, even though there was no uniform pan-German law on chambers of commerce, and even though the trade-promotion associations were still predominant in the southern German states. The chambers were originally conceived as economic-political advisory organizations run by the government. They successively obtained the right to self-administration and had acquired the status of corporations under public law by the end of the l9th century (Law on Chambers of Commerce of 24 February 1870 and 19 August 1897). In 1924 the chambers of commerce were renamed "chambers of commerce and industry" to acknowledge the altered economic structure in the districts they served.
In order to achieve a better joint coordination of their work, the Prussian chambers of commerce founded the "Federation of Prussian Chambers of Commerce", which was an instance of voluntary cooperation under civil law, in l860. The Federation served as the model for the "Federation of German Chambers of Commerce" founded in 1861, i.e. one year later. From 1918 to 2001 this organization was called the "Federation of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry" (German abbreviation: DIHT). The current name is ”Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (German abbreviation: DIHK).
The present Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Essen, Mülheim on the Ruhr, Oberhausen in Essen was created by the merger of the chambers of commerce in the cities of Essen and Mülheim on the Ruhr, both of which were established in the autumn of 1840 by decree of the King of Prussia with the following mandate: "To inform the government authorities of their perceptions on the development of trade, manufacturing and shipping and to present their opinions on means of promoting one or the other, as well as to notify them of the obstacles to an attainment of these goals and the means of overcoming them."
This passage from the founding charter of the Chamber of Commerce of Essen dated November 1840 basically describes the present economic and political tasks of the present chambers of commerce and industry. These two chambers were awarded the status of corporations under public law in 1897; from then on, they performed public administrative tasks under their own responsibility in their capacity as an indirect form of government administration. In return, the city granted them the right of self-administration, within the scope of which the chambers were able to carry out the duties entrusted to them without outside direction.
In 1896 the Chamber of Commerce of Essen expanded its administrative area to include the territory of the present city of Oberhausen. In 1910 the chambers of commerce in Essen and Mülheim merged in order to perform their tasks and represent their interests more effectively. Their main spheres of responsibility involved the preparation of position papers, recommendations and information on diverse aspects of economic policy, on traffic and transport issues, on municipal infrastructure and on public credit institutions. In contrast to present legislation concerning the chambers of commerce and industry, the chambers of commerce of that time expressed opinions on socio-political and labour legislation issues.
The year 1933 represented a severe setback for the chambers of commerce and industry. As part of its totalitarian policies, the National Socialist government successively restricted the economic self-administration of the chambers and effectively revoked it by incorporating the chambers into the "Gauwirtschaftskammern" [roughly: NSDAP Chambers of Commerce] set up in 1942/43. The rapid reactivation of the chambers of commerce and industry after 1945 was carried out mainly in the interests of the Allies, who needed them to mediate between the occupation authorities and the individual enterprises as part of the ongoing economic reorganization measures . The reestablishment of the chambers was carried out in a completely different fashion in each of the three western zones, however. Whereas the military government in the French zone simply reinstated the laws pertinent to chambers of commerce and industry that were in effect before 1933, the American and English military administrations permitted only chambers of commerce and industry in the form of private enterprise associations with voluntary membership.
The issue was settled on a nationwide basis by the "Law Providing a Temporary Settlement of the Legislation on Chambers of Commerce and Industry of 18 December 1956"; this law has undergone several revisions, the latest in 1993. The individual German states enacted corresponding state laws to amend and implement the IHK Law. The applicable law for the chambers of commerce and industry in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, is the "Law on the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (IHKG) of 23 July 1957". In 1962 and 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court expressly verified the organization principle of compulsory membership, which was considered to be prudent - and, in fact, necessary - for the proper conduct of the work of the chambers. On the state level, the 16 chambers of commerce and industry in North Rhine-Westphalia have collectively formed the "Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Rhine-Westphalia"
Organization - Tasks - Financing
As corporations under public law, the chambers of commerce and industry have the task of looking after the overall interests of the persons engaged in a trade or business within their jurisdiction and to promote the commercial economy, in the course of which the economic interests of individual branches of commerce or individual businesses should be represented in a fair and impartial manner. Representing socio-political or labour legislation interests no longer falls within the scope of responsibility of the chambers. All persons engaged in a trade or business are members of the chamber of commerce and industry. This does not include persons engaged in crafts or agriculture or self-employed persons; these groups are represented by their own organizations.
The General Assembly, the Presiding Committee and the General Manager constitute the self-administrative bodies of the chambers of commerce and industry. The members of the General Assembly- also called the Chamber Parliament - are elected by the members of the Chamber every five years in accordance with the Rules on Elections. The General Assembly, in turn, elects the Presiding Committee and the President and appoints the General Manager. In the performance of its various duties, the chamber relies on the voluntary participation of individual members, in particular the representatives elected at the General Assembly, the individual professional committees, and the various working and discussion groups.
Today the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Essen, Mülheim on the Ruhr, Oberhausen in Essen is a regional association representing roundabout 47,000 companies in the industry, retailing/ wholesaling and service sectors; it offers its members a wide range of advisory and information services. The general tasks specified in the pertinent legislation can be subdivided into three concrete spheres of activity:
1. Politics, looking after common interests, economic promotion,
specifically: public presence of the chamber, "lobbying function", preparation of position papers on proposed laws, and critical illumination of municipal budgets.
2. Public duties that are entrusted to the chambers by law and have to be performed in the interest of the business community,
specifically: representation of public concerns in urban development planning proceedings, naming and appointment of professional experts, conducting of proceedings for exemption from military service or alternative service as a conscientious objector and keeping of a duplicate of the Register of Companies.
3. Tasks entrusted to the chamber by law which are performed for individual members, specifically: conducting examinations in the occupational training and transport sector, certification of all kinds, instruction of restaurant and hotel proprietors, provision of information and advisory services, assistance for persons starting new businesses.
Following the collapse of the communist system and the planned economies in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Essen took an active part in setting up a free market economy in Poland. For example, it helped to establish a regional chamber of commerce in Kattowitz.
The chambers of commerce and industry do not receive any budgetary allocations from the public sector. They are financed by contributions and by the allocation of chamber proceeds as well as by various fees, charges and remunerations. The members of the chamber decide themelves at the General Assembly, via their elected representatives, on the volume of the chamber's revenues and expenditures. Moreover, the chamber of industry and commerce is subject to the supervision of the Auditing Office for the Chambers of Commerce and Industry; the independence of this office is comparable to that of the State Auditing Office.
The District of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry - Area and Population
The district served by the chamber, which includes the cities of Essen, Mülheim on the Ruhr and Oberhausen, covers an area of 379 km2 and has 974 thousand inhabitants. The population density is 2,573 inhabitants per km2; this is twice the population density of the Ruhr region as a whole (1,228 per km2) and nearly five times that of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (530 per km2). The district served by the chamber accounts for only 10 % of the area of the Ruhr region but 21 % of the entire population of 4.8 million.
The cities of Essen and Oberhausen located in the centre of the zone of industrial concentration are - after the city of Herne, with its population density of 3,331 - the two most densely populated municipalities in the Ruhr region, with population densities of 2,787 and 2,845 inhabitants per km2, respectively. The Wesel District, in contrast, which exhibits a more agrarian structure, has only 457 inhabitants per km2.