Bavarians brave cold to campaign to ‘Save the Bees’

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Daniel Wighton - [email protected]
Bavarians brave cold to campaign to ‘Save the Bees’
Photo: DPA

A referendum proposal in Bavaria to bring about changes to farming practices has already attracted large crowds in several cities and towns across Germany’s second most-populous state. However it has also attracted some notable criticism, including from the state’s ruling Christian Social Union.


For language learners: we've highlighted some useful vocabulary in this news story. You'll find the German translations at the bottom of the article.

In Munich, Augsburg and several other cities across Bavaria, thousands have braved the cold weather to show their support for the ‘Save the Bees’ (Rettet die Bienen) petition

The registration process opened on February 1st and will continue for a mandatory 14-day period. In that time, organizers hope to receive one million signatures so that the plan can be put to a state-wide referendum

However despite the early support, there have been plenty of critical voices aimed at the campaign. 

Changing farming practices

The petition has outlined three primary improvements targeted at Bavaria’s lucrative farming sector. 

Firstly it seeks to increase the percentage of land farmed organically from the current ten percent to 30 percent. 

The second demand is that farmers be made more responsible for changing their farms to make them more ‘bee friendly'.

This includes creating more non-farmed meadows that are suitable for bees and mowing their grasses later in the year. The organizers have also called for wider margins to be left on streams and creeks, which are natural bee habitats.  

Finally, the petition calls for farmers’ environmental compliance to be made compulsory. Currently, farmers are encouraged to make environmentally-beneficial changes on a voluntary basis, and are provided financial reward for doing so. In total, 275 million per year is invested into this program.

Debate over the way forward 

While organic farming organisations and green groups have welcomed the petition, opponents including farming peak bodies and Bavarian politicians have warned that the petition could have far-ranging consequences.  

Critics, including the ruling state government, have argued that the changes are unnecessary - and effectively punish farmers for doing their job. 

The CSU have been cautious to discuss the referendum, due at least in part to their desire to retain support among Bavaria’s farming community. 

Party leader Markus Söder told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the party was seeking a more complete solution, “in such a way that the bees AND farmers are saved”, Mr Söder emphazised. 

The CSU's coalition partner, the Freie Wähler, have also indicated that they were unlikely to support the petition, with party consumer protection spokesman Hans Friedl saying the proposal was “well meant but not well done” and was “neither fair nor effective”. 

An upcoming climate disaster?

According to the Max Planck Institute, insect populations across Germany have been in free fall in recent years. Since reunification the number of flying insects in Germany is just one quarter of it was in 1989, while 39 percent of butterfly species have vanished during the past two centuries. 

In indicating their support of the petition, the Institute said that the loss of butterfly species was the “canary in the coal mine” for an upcoming climate disaster. 

To get to this stage the referendum needed 25,000 signatures to be opened to voters across the state. While this hurdle has been cleared, the move now needs to attract ten percent of eligible Bavarian voters - around one million of the state's ten million residents who are legally allowed to vote. 

If enough voters register, the Bavarian state parliament has three months to handle the citizens’ requests. Two options will be open to the Bavarian parliament: either accepting the proposal as it is, or putting it to a statewide referendum. 

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The referendum would consider the proposal on the basis of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote by a simple majority, with the government bound by the result. 

German vocabulary

(die) Bienen = bees

(das) Volksbegehren = petition

(der) Volksentscheid = referendum

Rettet die Bienen = save the bees

(der) Koalitionspartner = coalition partner

(die) Bauern/Landwirte = farmers

(die) Staatsregierung = state government

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating relevant vocabulary from our news stories of the day. Did you find articles like these useful? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know.


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