"Um" = around
"Welt" = world
"Umwelt" = environment
I no longer have any idea how the UK communal scene works. I do occasionally get to see things like Mrs May giving speeches on building houses and how she is going to sort it out. She luckily didn’t wear a hard hat and wield a trowel for the speech.
The Germans say they have a bottom-up structure. So, for instance, our parish of 2,500 souls is one of 52 that reports to the county council. The county with its 140,000 inhabitants is one of 14 that form a regional council of 1.4m inhabitants. This regional council is one of seven that then form the Bavarian State with its 13m population which in turn is one of 16 States that form the Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Germany.
Each level of this structure has its responsibilities. The German central government has in effect little direct say except in matters of Foreign (incl. EU) policy, central budget finance and taxes defence, security of borders and customs, justice, intelligence, and then a controlling and directional function on matters such as transport, education, energy.
Bavaria, for instance, has its own school curriculum and testing standards. It has its own police force, courts, decides its own public holidays. It has it’s own representative “embassy” in Berlin to further its interests with the German State and in Brussels to do the same for EU matters.
Health is coordinated centrally but farmed out down to the county level who are responsible for providing the infrastructure. Our council runs several hospitals and the elected head of the county council is the head of the board of each of these. Like all these things, there are the elected politicians but the day to day work is carried out by the civil service and one big lot they are!
This long structure does in a sense help a little bit to give responsibility as far down the line as possible. My vote for parish mayor and councillors determines where the water in my kitchen tap comes from and how much it costs. Yes, of course, the cries of “those politicians up there are ignoring us” is exactly the same as anywhere else on the planet.
The lowest level of communal politics is the "Gemeinde" or parish. They are responsible to secure the basic means of making life livable. Thus it is their responsibility to provide housing, to connect these to the basic services of electricity, telephone/internet, water, sewage, refuse, roads, sports & recreation facilities, kindergartens and schools, fire brigade, flood control but also housing, planning permission and commercial business needs. They also are the registrars of births, marriages and deaths and of the inhabitants living in the parish and includes all the passport & ID card issuing as well as even issuing of the tax paperwork without which you can’t get a (legal) job or even start a business. The parish council set the housing and commercial tax rates as well as the charges for water, sewage, if and how much dog tax and so it goes on.
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean they do all these things themselves but will often delegate them up upwards, share them with other parishes or even privatise them. Our parish for instance drills it’s own holes in the ground to provide us with mains water and maintains the pumping house and entire infrastructure to get the water to the meter in each property and is naturally responsible for the monitoring and quality. For sewage though, they have formed a cooperative with a couple of neighbouring parishes to provide the sewage infrastructure. The new internet hi-speed fibre network contract has been given to a company who have to build the infrastructure and in return have the rights to it for a given period. We as consumers can though choose our internet/phone provider freely and they pay the contracting company a lease fee.
Refuse & Environment is a key issue at all levels of government but practically gets carried out at the county level. Ours has an incineration plant (landfill is illegal) and every few years the refuse collection contract is put out to tender.
Today the annual report was published and delivered to all homes. The war on reducing refuse continues but is getting harder. 2017 saw a decline in private households but a massive increase from the commercial sector even though our region produces much less than the average in Bavaria. Recycling remains key and the push to reduce one-way plastic. On the cover, the head of the council launching a German-wide voluntary system of reusable coffee-to-go mugs.
An interesting item which shows that landlocked Bavaria cares about the state of the waters lapping on to the beach at Clacton or Dover is a call to stop plastics getting into the rivers. Recent research shows sea-salt now contains large amounts of plastic. Still within levels that are considered harmless, at least at the moment. Bavaria if it took the UK governments attitude to solidarity, doesn’t need to care a damn – we have enough salt under our mountains to take care of our food and snow fighting needs! We could bake our own cake and eat it but in the interest of all are prepared to do our bit for all of the worlds Umwelt.