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Berlin: More Democracy

Berlin: More Democracy

01-03-2006

Berlin is not only the capital of Germany it is also a federal state, with its own state-legislature (the Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives) and parliaments in the twelve districts of the city. On both levels, initiative and referendum(rights or procedures) have been introduced over the last few years, 1995 on state-level and 2005 in the city-districts.

On state-level, there are severe restrictions to the initiative and referendum process. Initiatives addressing the constitution or the budget of the city are prohibited. No less than 250.000 people (ten per cent of the voters) have to sign an initiative in order to trigger a referendum. A referendum takes effect only if at least half of those eligible to vote have participated or if the winning side represents at least a third of the citizens. The result is, that there has been not a single successful initiative since 1995.

 The initiative has launched a website.

 Although they had promised it, the parties in the Abgeordnetenhaus were at first reluctant to change the rules of the initiative and referendum process. Early in 2006 the Bündnis für Direkte Demokratie, representing twelve organizations including Mehr Demokratie started lobbying for a reform. The approach was successful: Right now the Abgeordnetenhaus is discussing an amendment to the constitution to open the initiative and referendum process for new subjects and make the requirements more citizens-friendly. Initiatives concerning the constitution and the budget of the city will become possible, 170.000 signatures for an initiative will be sufficient to trigger a referendum. A referendum will take effect, if at least a quarter of those eligible to vote have participated. For constitutional amendments, the hurdles are higher. According to the Bündnis für Direkte Demokratie this is a step in the right direction, but only a beginning, because even with this new legal basis many referenda will fail.

To take effect, the constitutional amendment has to be adopted by two thirds of the members of the Abgeordnetenhaus, which is certain since all parties have already agreed on the reform. It also needs the approval of the people in a statewide referendum that will be held on September 17.

Another factor that helped to overcome the reluctance of the parties is the success of initiatives and referenda in the districts of the city. In June 2005 Berlin was the last state of Germany to introduce initiatives and referenda on the local level (Bürgerbegehren) with the best rules ever adopted by a German parliament. Since then no less than eleven initiatives have been started.

 Martin Burwitz / Christian Posselt

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