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17. September 2006: Berlin 84 per cent want more democracy

17. September 2006: Berlin 84 per cent want more democracy


A referendum was held in Berlin; this reform of legislation concerning direct democracy was part of a larger package of constitutional amendments.

84 per cent voted in favour of the amendments. The referendum took place together with regional elections. The voter-turnout was in both votes approximately 58 per cent.

This victory for direct democracy is a result of the intensive work of the regional branch of Mehr Demokratie (see report).

The reform strengthens the mayor of Berlin, grants more and better information rights to MPs, and improves direct democracy. Whereas 240,000 signatures were previously required in order to initiate a referendum, this threshold has been reduced to 170,000. Also, the allotted time for

collecting the signatures will be extended from two to four months. Popular initiatives regarding the budget are no longer automatically excluded. The citizens also gain the right to amend the constitution - at least theoretically. In

this case, nearly half a million signatures are needed for a popular initiative and the amendment will be ratified only with approval of a two-thirds majority, of which half the eligible voters must be represented.

Despite these gains, the new regulations are not far-reaching enough. The referendum held in Berlin was initiated from above and there was no voter-turnout quorum (the required percent of voters needed to approve of

referendums or other legislation).

1,101,462 citizens voted in favour of more democracy; however, they represent "only" 45.4% of eligible voters. Had there been a quorum in this referendum, these new tools for direct democracy would not have been approved of. For future initiatives and referendums (i.e. those introduced from the bottom-up), there exists a quorum requirement of 50 per cent, a threshold many view as not only unrealistic, but also as an unnecessary hindrance to citizen initiatives.

The continued of existence of hurdles in the path of direct democracy notwithstanding, these reforms provide an essential foundation for more democracy in Germany.

 Ronald Pabst & Jennifer Shore


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