It should be the really big black-green litter. A milestone on the way to a climate-neutral industrial society, to the model state of Schleswig-Holstein for energy and a new era. With a so-called general clause in state legislation, the black-green coalition in Kiel wanted to ensure that important “infrastructure and investment projects of state and national importance” would no longer be delayed or even prevented by local citizens’ requests.
Public interest, the rapid conversion of the state to a climate-neutral industrial society, should in future take precedence over self-interest in Schleswig-Holstein. That was the goal of the government of Prime Minister Daniel Günther (CDU). Accelerated planning and implementation should be the motto in a federal state whose state government dreams of profiting as much as possible from the energy transition and economic transformation.
From this, which can be clearly seen a good six months later, nothing will come of it. Even a draft law that was already significantly slimmed down compared to Günther's original plans and had the completely inconspicuous title "Act to Amend Local Law Regulations" was shipwrecked at an expert hearing in the Landeshaus on the Kiel Fjord. It is the first major bankruptcy for the prime minister, who is popular in the north, since he took office in 2017.
The state government is correspondingly stubbornly clinging to at least the meager remnants of its original plan. The quorums for citizens' petitions and referendums in the northernmost state are to be raised at least a little.
In order for a citizens' initiative to come about, in future ten percent (previously nine), in medium-sized municipalities eight (previously six) and in cities from five (previously four) percent of those entitled to vote would have to sign. In the case of a referendum, the quorum – i.e. the proportion of the total number of voters who voted at least for the question put to the vote – would also be increased a little.
In municipalities with up to 20,000 inhabitants, it would then be twenty percent (previously 18); 16 percent (twelve) in municipalities with up to 100,000 inhabitants and ten percent (eight) in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. These are almost minimally invasive changes, which even from the point of view of the opposition in the Kiel state parliament do not represent a significant intervention. Nationwide - different quorums apply in each federal state - Schleswig-Holstein would still be in the middle of a "direct democracy table" with the new figures.
Criticism of the bill is essentially not directed at the changed quorums. Rather, the coalition's plan to rule out citizens' petitions against certain construction projects in the event that these projects were approved by a two-thirds majority in the respective local parliament caused outrage.
This is a long way from the "general clause" originally planned by Black-Green, according to which the state government itself, quasi "par ordre du mufti", could have decided which citizens' petitions would still have been possible and which would not. Nevertheless, the opposition, environmental and civil rights organizations are sounding the alarm.
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In their opinion, the implementation of the black-green plans would "massively restrict" the hard-won shares of direct democracy in the democratic decision-making process instead of constantly expanding them as has been the case up to now. A trend reversal with nationwide signal power. And at the same time a trick that, according to the Schleswig-Holstein state chairman of the association "More Democracy", Karl-Martin Henschel, would ensure "that a large part of the citizens' petitions in Schleswig-Holstein would no longer be permissible".
Reason: In the mostly very small municipalities of the federal state, decisions of the local councils are usually made with an oversized majority anyway - and would therefore no longer be vulnerable in the future.
Henschel, only incidentally, used to be the leader of the Greens parliamentary group in the state parliament in Kiel. A subtle indication of how difficult his party is with the plans of the Christian Democratic alliance partners. Green skepticism, which was also evident last Wednesday in the run-up to the expert hearing in the state parliament. Warmly welcomed by representatives of the opposition parties SPD and SSW, 40 opponents of the change in the law were gathered in front of Parliament and demonstrated against the planned limitation of citizens' petitions.
Jan Kürschner, a Greens member of the state parliament who was also present, audibly distanced himself from the plans of his own state government at this mini-rally. They really are "not a core green issue," said Kürschner, stepping from one foot to the other in embarrassment.
At the hearing itself, at least the representatives of the municipal umbrella organizations - district council, city association, community council - supported the draft law of the Kiel state government. They expect more “planning security” at the municipal level from the restriction of citizen participation. Also less frustration in the local parliaments and municipal administrations, where important decisions in the future could no longer be shaken so quickly by citizens' petitions. The "balanced compromise", said community day board member Jörg Bülow in praise of the black-green plans, will "strengthen the role of those who take responsibility."
On the other hand, the two Kiel professors Wilhelm Knelangen and Edzard Schmidt-Jorzig, who were also questioned at the hearing, expressed very clear criticism. Black-Green, according to lawyer Schmidt-Jorzig and political scientist Knelangen in unison, does not provide sufficient justification for the intended restriction of citizens' requests. Knelangen criticizes the "insufficient fact base" of the black-green bill. Schmidt-Jorzig, FDP member and Federal Minister of Justice from 1996 to 1998, finds the draft law “unconvincing” overall.
In his written statement on the draft law, Schmidt-Jorzig said it was not “the citizens who intervened” who were to blame for the “paralyzing slowness of general administrative enforcement in Germany”. But "the dense regulatory network that covers all public projects", plus the susceptibility of the administration to errors and the extensive legal protection.
In other words: A state government that wants to implement large-scale projects more efficiently and make Schleswig-Holstein a model state for successful economic transformation should first put its own house in order.
According to the will of the black-green Kiel cabinet, the law should be passed by the state parliament before the local elections scheduled for May 14th.
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