State politics: Cuts in citizens' petitions continue to be controversial

The slimmed-down plans of the black-green coalition for cuts in referendums have also met with massive criticism from the opposition in the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament.

State politics: Cuts in citizens' petitions continue to be controversial

The slimmed-down plans of the black-green coalition for cuts in referendums have also met with massive criticism from the opposition in the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament. The same applies to an optional rule, according to which the minimum size of parliamentary groups in local parliaments can be increased from two to three MPs. This became clear during the first reading of the black-green bill on Friday.

Interior Minister Sabine Sütterlin-Waack (CDU) emphasized the goals of accelerating important construction projects, providing affordable housing and strengthening volunteer work. The minister rejected the accusation of a massive dismantling of democracy. Citizens' requests are still possible without too high hurdles.

After massive criticism, the government had moved away from the rigorous restrictions initially planned for citizens' petitions. This means that infrastructure, investment or climate projects that are classified as indispensable due to their state or national importance are not excluded from citizens' requests after all. Such a general clause, which the CDU and Greens had anchored in the coalition agreement, does not now exist.

One of the remaining controversial regulations is that in municipal councils with at least 31 members, which are usually places with more than 25,000 inhabitants, the minimum size of parliamentary groups can, but does not have to, be increased from two to three. Citizens' petitions should no longer be allowed against such land use plans, for which a two-thirds majority was required in the local council. Renewed requests against a project are only possible after three years. Citizens' petitions against a decision by a local council should follow within three months in the future - there is currently no deadline.

Circumcisions in referendums cannot be justified, said SPD MP Kai Dolgner. Democratic decisions - such as those of a municipal council - could also be fundamentally flawed.

Bernd Buchholz (FDP) assessed the planned general clause and other regulations as an attack on democracy. The optional regulation on minimum sizes of parliamentary groups will lead to discord in local parliaments. Buchholz raised constitutional concerns.

The existence of many small groups paralyzes local political decisions, said CDU parliamentary group leader Tobias Koch. He called for moderation from the opposition. The coalition is based on regulations in other federal states. Citizens' requests could also lead to delays in important projects, said Koch. Overall, the changes are about ensuring the functioning of democracy and providing more economic dynamism.

Schleswig-Holstein has so far had very far-reaching opportunities for direct citizen participation in comparison to other countries, said the Minister of the Interior. The coalition takes a very measured and sensitive look at where changes appear necessary. "We're definitely not taking an ax to the roots of democracy," said Sütterlin-Waack. "Instead, we are also strengthening local self-government."

Green parliamentary group leader Lasse Petersdotter emphasized the compromise character of the draft law. In the past, the Greens had campaigned very strongly for citizens' initiatives, he said. These are an important tool for correcting possible mistakes made by local government. The now planned two-thirds rule is a balanced step, as is an increase in the minimum group size from two to three members.

SSW faction leader Lars Harms spoke of arbitrariness and attacks on democracy. By restricting rights, the coalition puts people off and makes it difficult for small parties to work in local politics. Even more disputes instead of cooperation are foreseeable. The SSW is open to suing "against all that crap". If possible, the law should be in force for the local elections on May 14 next year.

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