Bavaria celebrates most successful referendum ever – to save its bees

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Bavaria celebrates most successful referendum ever – to save its bees
Demonstaters in Munich on February 5th make their stance on the issue to save Bavaria's bees well-known. Photo: DPA

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.


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.

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. 

SEE ALSO: Bavarians brave cold to campaign to 'save to bees'

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.

SEE ALSO: Why is the Green Party suddenly flying so high in Germany?

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. 

Next steps

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.

German vocabulary

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

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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