For B's Sake
Seeing the scenes of mass chaos throughout England this evening on Sky News, I do wonder if the country has moved on one tiny bit from the Winter of 1962/3. Back then I think they coped better with 3 metres of snow than today with 3 centimetres of slush.
But to be fair, I also remember the huge excitement at the very sight of a single snowflake and the hopeful anticipation as a father of young children of at least enough for a short snowball fight. So let the English have their chaos. They revel in it and when it really gets back >5cm, the good old Dunkirk spirit is back. The patrolmen from the AA & RAC get star billing on the TV channels to explain how to scratch ice from windscreens and the need to pack a month’s worth of Mars Bars, sleeping bags, shovels, blankets into the boot before setting off to Tesco half a mile from home.
Today the official starting pistol was fired in Bavaria for a possible Referendum. In comparison to the UK, we have quite a few here. Since 1946 there have been 20 such actions, 19 of which resulted in a Referendum.
Although there is a possibility to hold a German national referendum, it can only be on issues concerning inner German boundaries. For instance, if some of the 16 States wanted to amalgamate such as happened in 1952 with the creation of the State of Baden Würtemberg by a merger of the three states of Württemberg-Baden, Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern. And if the Swabian part of Bavaria wanted to create its own state it would go to a national referendum. However, a referendum by the State of Bavaria to become an independent country is not allowed.
As far as I know, the ability to have a referendum goes right down to parish level. A few years ago the residents of Munich and south-east Bavaria had one on whether there should be a bid for the Winter Olympic Games which would make Munich the first city to hold both Summer and Winter Games. It was at the time that the Olympic organisation, FIFA and all such bodies were under massive criticism for corruption and putting money before people. The referendum rejected making a bid and I think in retrospect was largely regretted.
Each of the 16 German States has slightly different rules: for instance, in Bavaria, it cannot involve issues around the State finances The methodology is basically the same and held in various steps.
(Bavaria has around 13mill inhabitants and 10mill voters)
1) Someone comes up with an idea and manages to collect 25,000 signatures from registered voters on pieces of paper of their own choice. This is presented to the authorities who check if the signatures are genuine and if the "cause" is legal.
2) Then a petition stage starts. Registered voters have 14 days to go to their town hall and sign on the electoral roll. If 10% (ie in Bavaria around 1mill) do so, the German State parliament has 3 months time to either accept the petition and make it law or call a full Referendum within a further 3 months.
3) The referendum is then held and requires a simple majority to become law without any further debate
Up until now, I as an immigrant EU-Burger, have not been allowed to vote in such matters. Perhaps understandable that with the EU’s free movement policy, the Scots could flood Bavaria with enough people to get the 1 million signatories and force a Referendum which quite possibly may be attractive to many of the local tribes and before we know it, Bavaria is now called “The Highland, Lowland and Alpine Republic of St Andrews”.
I think a merger of Bavaria and Scotland makes a lot of sense.
The last few referendums have been on education matters, including no university fees. The most “controversial” result was much like Brexit. It was on banning smoking in all buildings open to the public and in offices. Although many changes had taken place since the 1990s on no-smoking areas in restaurants, trains etc, and smoking was on the decline, smoking remained as much a part of Bavaria as drinking beer. So the smokers didn’t go to the polling stations but woke up the next morning not only with the normal smoker’s cough but chocking on their breakfast rolls as they read the result.
And so now as a visitor to Germany you have to get used to being able to smoke in some States but not in others. Same applies on several public holidays where shops and driving trucks are banned in one state and not in the neighbouring one.
The petition which starts today is officially called “Biodiversity and Beauty of Nature” with the official motto “Save the Bees”.Started by a 38-year-old lady who is a parttime farmer partnered with another farmer and she wants to become a vet but also has a strong environmentalist interest. The petition is about 10 pages of changes required to Bavarian law to improve the countryside for our winged and crawling coinhabitants. It includes all sorts of very specific measures such as public (street) lighting, building (and this groundwater levels) but the headline measure would require Bavaria’s agricultural land to be farmed on organic principles – 25% by 2025, 30% by 2030.
Bavaria has an area of around 70,000km² almost identical to Ireland and just a bit smaller than Scotland which if it was a country would rank around #118 in the World. The agricultural land is about 45% or 30,000km², the equivalent area of Belgium. Well over 200,000 people work directly in agriculture, three-quarters of which are family members. Add to this all those involved in servicing the agribusiness and indeed making a profit on selling their products. That’s one big number of voters with a direct interest and many of them are not friends of organic farming so long as it could affect their wallets.
So, as one might expect, the Farmers Organisation is against the petition as is the ruling Bavarian Government who know these are voters they can rely on at normal elections. Very short sighted and one would have thought they had learnt from the October elections when there was a massive swing to the Green Party which cost them their majority.
It will come to a referendum and it will win. Now that I also have German citizenship and keep bees, I will, of course, be voting for it. Part of the petition calls for financial help for the farmers to make the change and this is I believe crucial and hope very much that the new EU organisations post the May elections will make this a key reform in the EU Agricultural policy.
Yes, there are lots of issues – organic milk dairies say they now have the market fully covered and can’t sell more than they already do, so we need to increase demand and we as consumers and beneficiaries of a more intact countryside, we have to get used to paying more.
It’s another small step to getting a more reasonable world for us to live in – Respect for Nature will hopefully result in more Respect for People.