Bavaria celebrates most successful referendum ever – to save its bees
Nearly 18.5 percent of eligible voters in Bavaria participated in a referendum to strengthen organic farming practices - setting a record and potentially changing the course of the country's environmental protection.
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According to the preliminary official result, 18.4 percent of the eligible voters (or 1,745,383 people) took part in a petition for the protection of species diversity in Bavaria - setting a new record for referendum participation in the southern state.
The referendum could also carry far-reaching consequences for the German farming industry and environmental protection.
The number of people who descended on city halls across the state to sign the petition far surpassed the one million required to obtain a referendum
within six months, under the state's direct democracy system.
The proposal for a vote to protect species diversity sets a target to have 20 percent of farmland meeting organic standards by 2025, before reaching 30 percent by 2030.
It also states that 10 percent of green spaces in Bavaria should also be turned into flowering meadows, while rivers and streams must be better protected from pesticides and organic fertilizers.
Already on the first day of the two-week initiative, which ran under the slogan "Save the Bees", Bavarians braved the frosty weather to cast their vote.
A historically high turnout
The highest turnout to date on a referendum in Bavaria - or 17.2 percent - was recorded in 1967.
According to Bavaria's Environment Minister Thorsten Glauber, of the Free Voters party, the success of the petition increases pressure for more species protection in cities and communities.
The initiative is aimed at changes to the Bavarian Nature Conservation Act: in addition to expanding organic farming, it states that biotopes (or ecological zones) should be better connected to each other, and that riparian strips (the area between land and a stream or river) are strongly protected.
The success of the petition also came despite opposition from the powerful regional farmers' association, which has urged the population to "stop bashing farmers" and warned of the potential financial costs to the industry.
The petition also puts the Bavarian government led by the CSU -- sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU -- under intense pressure, as it counts farming communities among its staunchest supporters.
Having ruled the wealthy state known for its Oktoberfest and lederhosen traditional dress almost uninterrupted for decades, the CSU in October lost its absolute majority as voters angry with its hardline stance against migrants turned to the Greens party.
Many also turned to the Greens in a bid to improve air quality and protect natural resources.
Daily Süddeutsche Zeitung noted that with Bavaria now poised to decide on the future of bees with a popular vote, the region "could become a forerunner in Europe on environmental protection".
Many voters and political parties, such as the Greens, hailed the success of the referendum. "18.4% of eligible voters are for a better nature protection law," tweeted the Greens.
Wir sind überwältigt! Das vorläufige amtliche Endergebnis bestätigt: Das #Volksbegehren @VArtenvielfalt ist das erfolgreichste aller Zeiten in #Bayern! 18,4% der Wahlberechtigten haben für ein besseres #Naturschutzgesetz unterschrieben. DANKE! https://t.co/yr83lwjHCH pic.twitter.com/phx5YKRCCP— GRÜNE Bayern (@Gruene_Bayern) February 14, 2019
The representative of the people's petition, Agnes Becker (of the Ecological Democratic Party, or ÖDP) said that she would hold a round table with Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) to discuss the demands from the bill of the people's petition.
"We are going into the discussion with all our good will," Becker told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper hailed the initiative as a "revolution" and "too progressive" for the CSU.
Volksbegehren Artenschutz #Bayern ist so fortschrittlich, wie die #CSU nie sein wollte https://t.co/ueACbR6T4V #VolksbegehrenArtenvielfalt— Ernst Dietrich (@gowcms) February 14, 2019
die Frage ist, ob die CSU und deren Personal überhaupt #Umwelt kann
Referendum - Volksbegehren
Species diversity - Artenvielfalt
Species protection -Artenschutz
“Save the bees” - rettet die Bienen
Turnout - Beteiligung
Environment minister - Umweltminister
Uferrandstreifen - riparian stripes
Farmers' association - Bauernverband
Nature protection law - Naturschutzgesetz
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