'Stuttgart's future is at stake'
The people of Baden-Württemberg have spoken: In a referendum on Sunday voters backed state funding for the controversial €4.5-billion Stuttgart 21 rail project. The Local’s media roundup looks at the reaction on Monday.
Just under half of those in the state voted, with more than half of them supporting the idea of the state being involved.
The project has attracted huge and passionate opposition for more than a year, which in itself was a major force behind the election of the first ever Green-led state government led by Winfried Kretschmann last spring. He and state transport minister Winfried Hermann both opposed Stuttgart 21, yet they will now have to work with Deutsche Bahn on the pricey project.
Kretschmann has already said he will not tolerate any cost increases, amid fears that they could continue to soar. He will also have to hold his coalition with the centre-left Social Democratic Party together in the face of triumphalism of the conservative opposition.
The regional Stuttgarter Nachrichten said the results demanded a change in direction from the Greens in particular. This will be problematic with ministers such as the anti-Stuttgart 21 activist Winfried Herman – and will bring them into conflict with some election promises. “But here they must show courage and clarity as they pull it off. Even disappointed voters will surely be able to discriminate between what a party initially wanted, and what is possible for it in government in light of the majority situation.”
The city’s other paper, the Stuttgarter Zeitung said despite the result, protests were likely to flare up again as building work starts and trees around the main station are felled. “All protagonists, particularly the Greens, must realise that what is needed now is an approach to the billion-euro project which can be critical but must be constructive. A good outcome is elemental to Stuttgart’s future.” In the light of next year’s Stuttgart mayoral election, the paper called for political leaders to adopt a conciliatory tone, and to see the chances offered by the project, but also to name the problems and to take the concerns of the people seriously.
Munich's centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung said the good thing about the result was its clarity. It has been difficult for people outside Stuttgart to form an opinion – should those demonstrating against the project be praised for their civil engagement? Or were they being irrational? The opponents may have felt they had majority opinion behind them – by getting more people on the streets than those in favour of the scheme, and electing the first Green state premier in great part as a result.
“But they will not have thought it possible that the majority that they felt themselves to be, was in reality such a clear minority,” the paper wrote. “On the other hand, the high quorum required by the state constitution to force a withdrawal from the scheme was always the expression of the political elite’s mistrust of direct democracy. Perhaps that mistrust will now abate. Which a referendum would be good for.”
The left-wing Berliner Zeitung said any other result would have been a sensation. “It was a defeat with advance notice, a trap into which the Greens had wandered open-eyed. (State premier) Kretschmann will keep his word that the construction will be pushed through. It is a question of credibility for him and his party, but tragic – because the alternative model of a modernised station developed by Stuttgart 21 opponents was better and cheaper.”
The right-wing daily Die Welt tackled the subject of holding a referendum, saying the vote was never rid of suspicions of being little more than a pressure valve for the opposition movement to take the edge off what was always going to be a defeat. Yet it suggested that rather than end the fight over the train station scheme, the result of the vote could heat up a debate over democratic legitimacy. “Plebiscites do not work as magic to establish an allegedly authentic will of the people – that is illustrated by the Stuttgart example,” the paper wrote. “And the attempt to put direct democracy as a addition to or even as an equal to representative democracy could prove to be a sure way to water down both at the same time.”