The reunification, tenaciously pursued and perhaps carried out a little hastily, entailed considerable costs which posed significant problems to Germany and risked tarnishing that image of an ‘economic giant’ that has long been attributed to it. However, the country continues to hold firmly the third place in the world ranking in terms of global GDP (almost 2800 billion dollars in 2005), i.e. the absolute size of its economy, surpassed in this only by the United States and Japan. Furthermore, by examining the statistics of the foreign trade of the states of the various economic macro-areas, it is rare to find countries that do not entertain relations, and for the most part very important, with Germany, which therefore continues to reveal a truly affirmative capacity remarkable in all markets. Obviously, the closest relations are those with the other members of the European Union, in the context of which the German economy has at times assumed hegemonic aspects that have not failed to arouse concerns. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist regimes of Eastern Europe returned Germany influence on areas that in the past were already part of its economic space and where its weight became decisive. The decisive part, and not without consequences in the Balkan events, carried out by Germany in the recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, falls within this framework and is a manifestation of the growth of the country’s political importance (see above).
The breakdown of the German workforce in traditional sectors of economic activities denounced in 2004 a 2.3 % just for agriculture, a 30.8 % for secondary activities and 66.9 % for tertiary. The percentage relating to agriculture is in line with what is found in the other more advanced European countries; the same cannot be said of the other two figures, the one relating to industry a little higher, the tertiary sector somewhat lower, which should be close to 70%. This is not so much due to a delay in the normal process that leads from industrialization to outsourcing, but rather to the fact that in Germany, a European nation with a brilliant and complex industrial history, secondary activities have undergone reconversions, while maintaining their importance. If the coal and steel activity has almost disappeared (the example of the Ruhr is valid for all, once a symbolic region of German industry, now a cleverly redeveloped space using the rich historical-industrial heritage for tourist, recreational and cultural purposes), other industries are thriving., and it is they that keep the importance of German exports. Moreover, it is significant that the percentage contribution of the three sectors to GDP, compared with the composition of the workforce,1.1 %) and industry (29.1 %) and higher for the tertiary sector (69.8 %).
As for GDP per resident (33,574 dollars in 2005), the position of Germany, generally oscillating around the tenth place in the world, is highly respected, surpassed only by the United States and by traditionally ‘rich’ European countries in which income per capita is always high due to the modest demographic mass, such as the Nordic and Alpine ones.
Agricultural and livestock activities, at the beginning of 21Century, despite the very modest share of the population absorbed and the irrelevant contribution to GDP, they continue to stand out for the modernity of the techniques and the high unit yields: for some items of particular importance (wheat, potatoes, sugar beet, pigs), they maintain, or even improve, their position in the world ranking. Secondary activities have undergone a smaller downsizing than that which occurred in most of the countries with more consolidated industrialization, but the general picture has radically changed: both from a sectoral point of view, due to the net decrease in the incidence of heavy industries (metallurgical, mechanical, chemical), in particular of those based on coal, and therefore of the mining companies of this fuel, now reduced to a few units, and their replacement with light industries, especially pharmaceuticals and precision instruments; both from a territorial point of view, in relation to the process, not so much of relocation as is usually claimed, but rather relocation, that is to say the transfer to other areas (eastern Länder or even foreign countries) where it is possible to achieve significant cost savings, especially relating to labor. Finally, the tertiary sector is divided into a vast range of activities, among which those that are much more advanced than the traditional tertiary sector emerge as to be indicated rather as quaternary.: generically executive activities (top political management, high finance, high scientific research) which are distinguished by their rarity and their concentration in the urban environment. In particular, scientific-technical research has reached very high levels, also favored by the receptivity towards innovations.
A peculiar and interesting feature of Germany’s economic-territorial organization is the tendency to integrate with other countries. Regardless of membership of the European Union and the role it plays there, Germany has experimented with a series of agreements between its own regions and regions of neighboring states, giving rise to cross-border economic spaces.