When was the first direct democracy created?

Direct democracy

1. Term

In contrast to representative democracy, direct democracy (dD) originally referred to the direct rule of the people, as ideally conceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century. It is characterized by the identity of governed and governing and assumes the existence of homogeneous societies and a general will. Under the conditions of modern societies and large political units, elements of direct democracy are understood today to complement representative democracy. From this perspective, both forms of democracy are equal and complementary.

Direct democratic decisions can involve the adoption of constitutions, constitutional amendments, the passing of → laws or the dissolution of parliaments. They are initiated "from above" by a government or parliament (referendum) or initiated by citizens "from below" as people's legislation (plebiscite). A referendum can be compulsory or optional and lead to a legally binding decision or provide advice. A plebiscite is divided into three stages. The popular initiative or the citizens' proposal serves to put a topic in the state parliament or in the council on the agenda and to have it dealt with. Petitions for a referendum or citizens' initiative go beyond this and aim at a decision on a specific matter. Parliament can approve or reject the request. The latter then leads in the third stage to a referendum or referendum. Since the legal regulations and the practice of the dD. are very different at the levels of the → political system D, they are dealt with separately in the following.

2. Direct democracy at the local level

The → GG provides in Article 28, Paragraph 1 that the municipal assembly can make decisions in place of an elected body in municipalities, but this form of classic direct popular rule was of no practical importance in view of the size of most → municipalities. Rather, direct democratic elements at the local level are regulated in the local constitutions, which are the responsibility of the federal states. Citizens' petitions and referendums were initially only anchored in BW's municipal code after 1945. In the FRG, the → change in values ​​in the 1960s and 1970s prepared the field for → citizens' initiatives and social movements. In this context, the demand for an expansion of participation opportunities through dD also won. in importance. In 1989, a citizens' movement in East Germany brought about the collapse of the GDR. As a result, the local constitutions of the re-established countries also contained elements of the dD. This development also had an impact on the FRG and was intensified by the increasing disenchantment with politics towards the institutions of parliamentary democracy. In the 1990s, all of the West German states reformed their municipal constitutions by introducing citizens' petitions and referendums. The local direct democratic procedures in the 16 countries are regulated very differently in detail. There are more or less extensive negative catalogs in which the political contents are listed that are excluded from a request, such as B. voting on budget issues, the organization of the administration or the legal relationships of the council members. In all countries, applicants for a request must formulate a question that can be answered with "yes" or "no". In addition, in some countries cost recovery proposals are required by the applicant in order to finance the effects of a successful request. Certain deadlines are set for both the beginning and the end of the collection of signatures in support of a request. The type of signature collection, which can take place in offices or on the street, is also regulated. Compliance with all rules is crucial for the admissibility of a direct democratic procedure and is subject to review.

After all, a certain number of signatures is required so that concerns that are not meant to be serious and special particular interests are filtered out in advance. These support quorums range from 2.5 to 15% of citizens in the territorial states - graded according to the size of the municipality. If there is a referendum, an approval quorum must also be observed. In order to win a referendum, not only a majority of the votes is required, but also the approval of a certain proportion of the total number of voters so that minorities do not dominate over silent majorities. This proportion is also different. In most territorial states, it is 20 or 25%, in BY and NRW, depending on the size of the municipality, 10 to 20%. In addition to the requests described here, which are initiated by the citizens, the councils in some of the federal states can also decide that a referendum takes place on a matter of the municipality (council citizens' decision).

For the period from 1956 to 2007, the Citizen Participation Research Center and dD. (Philipps-Universität Marburg) 4,587 direct democratic procedures recorded at municipal level, of which 3,721 were initiated by citizens and 711 by councils. There was a referendum in 2,226 cases. Most requests were made in BY (1,753), the least in SL (12). But when comparing the tradition of the dD. and the number of cities to consider. This shows that in a Bavarian municipality a citizens' petition is initiated on average every 14 years, in a municipality in North Rhine-Westphalia even every 12 years. At the bottom of the list is RP, where, in purely mathematical terms, a referendum takes place in a municipality every 280 years. From the point of view of the applicants, a request is at least partially successful if the council agrees, a compromise is agreed, a new council resolution is passed or, in the case of a referendum, a majority and a quorum of approval are achieved. In this sense, around 42% of the investigated and already completed requests were successful. The others were inadmissible or failed in the decision due to a lack of majority or failure to achieve the quorum. The success of a referendum does not depend so much on the size of the community, but on the subject of the decision. But it also depends on the organization of the collection of signatures and the communication and mobilization process. Initiators are mostly citizens' initiatives and interest groups that have resources and a certain organizational power. Parties, especially if they are locally in the opposition, tend to be among the supporters of citizens' petitions.

3. Direct democracy at the country level

With regard to the legal development dD. there was initially a lead at the state level over the municipal level. Because the 13 state constitutions in West and East Germany, which were passed before the founding of the states of the FRG and → GDR, all contained the possibility of referendums. Some of the state constitutions were themselves legitimized by referendum. After 1989 there was an expansion of direct democratic elements at the state level. Here, too, it was the democratization process in the new federal states that provided important impetus for reforms in the western German federal states. Until 1996, all states had two or three-stage elements dD either through new state constitutions or through constitutional amendments. introduced.

The diversity of German federalism is reflected in the legal structure. Compared to the municipal level, there are many similarities, but also some differences. At the state level, with the exception of HE and SL, votes on constitutional questions are also possible. In contrast, financial policy issues that affect the budget, taxes or the salaries of state employees are excluded. At the level of state politics, decisions are made on laws. A referendum therefore requires a draft law from the applicants. In addition, the parliaments have the right to put a counter-draft to the vote. The quorum of signatures for referendums is between 4% in BB and 20% in HE and SL. There is no approval quorum for simple laws in BY, HE and SN, while otherwise it is lowest with 15% of those entitled to vote in NRW and with 50% in SL is the highest. In the case of constitutional changes, the quorums are significantly higher. Only BY provides for a 25% hurdle, while in most countries 50% of those entitled to vote must agree and a two-thirds majority of the votes can be achieved.

The practice dD. at the state level is less pronounced than at the municipal level, despite the lead in terms of legal anchoring. The association "More Democracy" lists in its "Volksbegehrensbericht" for the period from 1946 to 2010 251 petitions, 46 popular petitions or popular initiatives and 38 votes on new state constitutions and constitutional amendments. The procedures initiated by citizens led to a referendum in 18 cases. In absolute numbers, the dD. most commonly practiced in BY. In HH, from a statistical point of view, citizens can take part in a referendum every 1.3 years and in a referendum every 2.5 years. However, the concentration of direct democratic practice on certain countries is high. There are ten countries in which a referendum has never been held. The success rate of referendums at the state level is an average of 29%. Of the 18 referendums, nine were successful and two partially successful, while five failed because of the approval quorum and two because of the majority.

Source: Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 7th, updated Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer VS 2013. Author of the article: Rainer Bovermann