citizens' initiative and referendum



Citizens get more say. A report from the Federal Republic of Germany

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In Northrhein-Westfalia the red-green coalition of social democrats (SPD) and greens has reached agreement with the christian democratic opposition (CDU) for changes in the constitution which will strengthen the rights of citizens to influence political matters. Accordingly before the next elections the citizens' initiative (e.g. to introduce, cancel or veto laws) will be introduced and the hurdles to referendum-on-demand will be cut. The parliamentary party leaders Edgar Moron (SPD), Juergen Ruettgers (CDU) and Sylvia Loehrmann (Green) unanimously praised the agreement as a victory for democracy.*

In future 0.5 percent of eligible voters (currently about 65,000 women and men) will be able to oblige the Land-parliament to debate an issue which they judge to be important. The only limit on choice of issue is the remit (field of responsibilty) of the Land-parliament. The finances of the Land but not military affairs can be debated. Eight percent (instead of formerly twenty percent) of those eligible to vote can start a "people's demand" ("Volksbegehren" which leads to referendum). The aim can be to make, change or abolish a particular law. For referendum the three political parties decided on a quorum of fifteen percent; previously a majority of those eligible to vote was required as quorum.

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From an article by Reinhard Voss. Citizens get more say: NRW reduces hurdles for initiative and referendum. Frankfurter Rundschau 30th Jan 2002

* Wallace-Macpherson comments. The literal translation here reads "victory for more democracy". This appears to be a reference to the citizens' organisation "Mehr Demokratie e.V." (registered association "More Democracy") which has campaigned for over ten years, with many successes, to strengthen citizen participation in the (mainly representative) democratic system. The political parties of Northrhein-Westfalia did not act without pressure. Mehr Demokratie can depend upon much public support there and in many other parts of the country.

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