Direct democracy – ideal path towards a peaceful Germany?

Direct democracy – ideal path towards a peaceful Germany?

by Karl Müller

The continued decisions of German politics against the express will of the citizens considerably endanger the country’s inner and outer security. Could direct democracy significantly improve the situation.

What kind of obstacle is the EU for direct democracy?

km. Anyone demanding direct democracy for Germany’s federal legislation has to bear in mind: Many of the laws and regulations passed by the German “Bundestag” – the figures from various studies in previous years vary from 30 to 80 percent – merely transpose EU directives1 into German law. German politics has contractually committed itself to this with the country’s EU membership. The German “Bundestag” must decide according to the EU guideline even if the German government representatives in the EU Council of Ministers were against it, but were outvoted by a qualified majority. Such decisions by qualified majority have increased with each new amendment to the EU treaties – the latest version is the “Treaty of Lisbon”, which has been in force since the end of 2009.
In recent weeks mainly German politicians such as Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and CSU politician Manfred Weber – top candidate of the German CDU/CSU and the European People’s Party (EPP) – have demanded majority decisions in the area of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). If this were to happen, Germany would lose its sovereignty in the question of war and peace. Then, even the possibility of direct-democratic procedures at federal level would no longer enable a German veto if the question arises. Conclusion: Membership of the EU is directed against the sovereignty of citizens. … And also against peace?
1    In addition to the “Lisbon Treaty”, EU law also includes regulations, directives and decisions. The directives must be transposed into national laws. EU regulations and EU decisions are directly applicable.

At the end of February 2019 the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr [“Bundeswehr” centre for military history and social sciences] published a 340-page research report: “Life after Afghanistan – Soldiers and Veterans of the “Generation Bundeswehr Mission”. Results of the social-science long-term supervision of the 22nd ISAF contingent” (http://www.zmsbw.de/html/einsatzunterstuetzung/downloads/20190221forschungsberichtseifferthesslebennachafghanistan.pdf)
The report was based on comprehensive multiple interviews with more than 1000 “Bundeswehr” soldiers who were deployed in Afghanistan from March to October 2010, a time of numerous hostilities. The soldiers were interviewed the first time a few weeks before the deployment, during the deployment, a few weeks after their return to Germany and then again three years later.
The following result was most cited in the media: “about one fourth (27 per cent) of the interviewees are [...] convinced that the “Bundeswehr” mission was ultimately useless because it did not contribute to any real improvements. Another 26 per cent of the interviewees partially agree with this statement.”

“Useless” mission in Afghanistan

Thus, more than half of the interviewed soldiers deemed the “Bundeswehr” mission in Afghanistan as useless or partially useless. According to the study this means: The mission did not improve the life of the Afghans, at least not in the long run.
Indeed, it is likely that the true percentage is even higher. After all, most soldiers were still on active duty, their employer was the “Bundeswehr” at war and the interviews were made as part of a “Bundeswehr” research project. The report reveals that the “Bundeswehr” itself was not to be questioned.

Germany’s freedom was definitely not defended at the Hindukush

In the beginning, the governmental justification slogan was “Germany’s freedom is also defended at the Hindukush” – thousands of kilometres from Germany. Then the German government tried to convey the impression that the military mission was essentially a Red Cross mission, that is, mainly helping the Afghans. In 2006, however, when Germany deployed more and more soldiers to the war in Afghanistan, the news magazine Der Spiegel ran the title: “‘The Germans need to learn to kill.’ How Afghanistan became an emergency.”
And then, in 2010, more than 50 per cent of the interviewed German Afghanistan soldiers agreed, completely or partially, with the statement that their mission was “useless”.
Since September 2017 the responsible offices have been aware of these results. They are also aware of the results of regular polls among the general population which regularly show that a clear majority opposes the Afghanistan mission as well as other military missions abroad.

The citizens’ will has no political consequences

To this day, the wide scepticism among soldiers and voters has had no political consequences. Every year the German “Bundestag” extends the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan. On 13 February the federal government decided upon another extension of the mission of 1,300 German soldiers. Most likely it will pass the “Bundestag” without much discussion.
This is the underlying feeling of many Germans: Parliament and government do not care about what the citizens want. There are elections, but after the elections the elected do not act according to the electoral mandate, not only regarding the “Bundeswehr” foreign missions.

The citizens’ discontent is growing

This has led to a great deal of discontent in recent years. This expresses itself in many ways. Former responsible politicians and top-level officials like Willy Wimmer or Hans-Georg Maassen are taking a very critical position today. A very young party like the AfD won more than 10 per cent in the last election to the “Bundestag” and it has representatives in all state parliaments, partly with more than 20 per cent of the votes. In many places in Germany there have been demonstrations, rallies and other events directed against German politics and German politicians. Many citizens have turned their back on mainstream media and now read alternative media, mainly in the internet. Formerly popular parties such as the CDU, CSU and SPD have lost more than 50 per cent of their members in recent years. The total number of party members in Germany fell from 2.4 to 1.2 million between 1990 and 2018. That is just 1.5 per cent of the total population.

Germany remains in a political tailspin

But even this does not lead to a change in policy. On the contrary, many Germans have gained the impression that Germany is a country in decline and that the number of wrong political decisions continues to increase.
However, the price is not paid by those politically responsible, but by the citizens. Bad politics does not affect politicians; it affects people in the country.
And when it comes to war and peace, bad politics can mean death. Dead German soldiers in Afghanistan are an example.
It  would be a miracle if there was a late insight on the part of those politically responsible. But to believe in miracles is not a convincing prospect.

Direct democracy – a way to get better?

Here it is discussed whether there could be a change for the better if the citizens were able to decide directly and even in central questions of politics. Is direct democracy the royal road for a peaceful Germany?
Switzerland has had good experiences with its direct democracy. Direct democracy does not promise political paradise on earth. But in any case, it promises more political decisions closer to the citizens and much more lively citizens’ sovereignty.
Direct democracy includes the right of citizens to decide directly on political issues and not only to elect individuals and parties. At the federal level, Switzerland has popular initiatives and referenda. The popular initiative is a constitutional amendment. Swiss citizens can collect 100,000 signatures within 18 months, in which case there must be a referendum on the constitutional amendment proposed by citizens. For a referendum, citizens can collect 50,000 signatures within 100 days; then a referendum on a law passed by parliament must be held. In the case of any amendment to the Constitution coming from the Parliament, and in the case of certain laws, a referendum is even obligatory.

Every country seeks its way

Each country and its citizens can find their own way to direct democracy.
This includes being aware of the preconditions and to work on them. Readiness for dialogue, objectivity and balance in public discussions, good expertise of the citizen, interest also in the arguments of the opposite side (thus being able to listen to the others!), efforts to find a legislation which all citizens can live with ... and so on – that is needed for direct democracy to succeed. Direct democracy requires responsible citizens – but it also contributes to making citizens responsible.
The demand for direct democracy has become louder in many European states. Anyone studying the publications of the Dresden Institute for Direct Democracy (DISUD) (www.disud.de/) and its congress programmes will easily recognise that there are very serious efforts to achieve more direct democracy in many European countries.

Germany has good prerequisites

Germany has good prerequisites for this, too. For all German municipalities and federal states, the state constitutions and municipal codes provide for direct democratic procedures. Some hurdles are still high, but much has been improved in the past 30 years. Germany has had good experience with citizens’ petitions and referenda, popular initiatives, petitions for a referendum and referenda. But at the federal level, the constitutional principle that the power of the people can also be exercised by referenda (Article 20, paragraph 2, sentence 2 of the “Grundgesetz”) has not yet been implemented in legislation. So far, the responsible politicians have denied the Germans this right – and these politicians will continue to do so unless the demand becomes broader and more sustainable.
The authoritarian state and its subjects are obsolete. But it is no less unworthy to reduce people to work, consumption and having fun. Direct democracy needs the committed awareness of the citizen that they are the real sovereign.    •

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