The Citizens' Initiative and Referendum: Direct Democracy in 5 Countries of Europe

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Title: The Citizens' Initiative and Referendum: Direct Democracy in 5 Countries of Europe
Authors: Wallace-Macpherson, MichaelRuppen, PaulErne, Rolandet al.
Permanent link: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/11346
Date: 9-Jan-2006
Online since: 2020-04-21T13:47:55Z
Abstract: The reports which we present here were gathered to illustrate the progress of five European countries in developing governance beyond the purely indirect, "representative" sort. Many citizens of western style societies where democracy is practised are dissatisfied with the limited participation allowed when, as is usually the case, voting and ballots are only for political parties and candidates, never about "issues", matters of real public concern. We will show how, within a few hundred miles of Britain's shores, "ordinary" people have for many decades been able to intervene in government, at local and state levels, on issues which they judge to be vital and which they have selected; when need be, directing their elected politicians with decisions of the whole electorate. The London conference – see "Acknowledgements" – which contributed to this publication had two aims, firstly to supply knowledge about how direct democracy works in places where it is established or at least well known. The examples chosen were four countries of western Europe and one "postcommunist" country of eastern Europe. The history of direct democracy, levels of governance involved and legal regulation of direct democratic procedures vary among the different countries. The second aim of our conference was to stimulate a debate about the future role of direct democracy in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Why did we select the countries and democracies chosen as examples? The Netherlands because it is quite similar to Britain, e.g. it is a "constitutional" monarchy. The Dutch, like the British, have little experience of direct democracy. But, in contrast, there has been some direct democratic innovation in the large, capital city, Amsterdam, whose parliament recently voted unanimously to introduce citizens' initiative and referendum. Poland because, even under the rapidly changing social and political conditions of the last decade, significant components of direct democracy have been available to citizens, and are being used, from the country level to the village. The development of post-war Germany has been heavily influence by lessons of history. One indication of this is the importance given to their "basic law" of constitution, which regulates governance and democracy. For many outsiders it is surprising to learn that there is extensive practice of direct democracy in the federal states (Lands), cities and districts. There is a strong movement to protect these democratic rights and to improve them, prime examples being Bavaria and Hamburg. Italy's direct democracy is special and in one way shows citizens' direct democracy in its strongest form. It is special for instance because it is "only" abrogative, that is the referendum cannot be used to make a new law ("propositional" direct democracy) but can only strike out an existing one, or part(s) of it. It is strong because here we have the best example, at least in Europe, of legally binding, citizen-initiated law-making at the country level. At all levels of governance Switzerland combines the direct with the indirect. A wealth of experience of over a hundred years shows direct democracy as public participation, with widespread deliberation of proposals and laws, a strong sense of civic stake-holding plus a reliance on the ultimate and in some cases direct authority of the people in matters of state. There is a tradition of consensus seeking among citizens' groups, non-governmental organisations, lobbyists, trade-unions, parliaments and governments. All of this can fascinate and astound some of us who take our main experience of political life from purely indirect ("representative") democratic, or from frankly undemocratic, systems. Thousands of political problems, proposals and conflicts, from the federal constitution to village traffic, have been deliberated and decided upon in procedures such as citizens' initiative and facultative referendum – the veto. During Sunday we heard talks by experts and practitioners of direct democracy from all of these countries. For Britain a proposal to introduce elements of direct democracy such as citizens' initiative (law-proposal), obligatory debate of endorsed proposals in parliament or council, and citizentriggered referendum for decision-making, was presented. Having learned how things are done elsewhere, we held a workshop to discuss the future of direct democracy in Britain. Those who came were interested, had good questions and made some proposals for further action. These vital facts about democracy – rule by the people – have been concealed from the British people by politicians, controllers of mass media, academics, school teachers and other "elites". A blend of self-interested censorship combined with apathy braced by the arrogance, that "We" run our affairs better, has kept effective and exciting developments in citizen-run politics well away from news headlines, lead stories, peak-time broadcasts, school curricula and university studies. Although our "Reader" primarily addresses residents and citizens of the British Isles we sincerely hope that people in other countries will study our account of exemplary democracies striving to approach "state of the art".
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs
Journal: Journal of the Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs
Volume: 5
Issue: 1
Start page: 47
End page: 86
Keywords: Direct democracyReferendumSwitzerlandItalyGermanyNetherlandsPoland
Other versions: http://visar.csustan.edu/aaba/aabajourVol5-No1.html
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Business Research Collection

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