Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First Referendum

Today I cast my vote in my first referendum in a typically German affair what the French call querelle Allemande.

Over more than ten years discussions and plans had been going on for replacing Stuttgart's 19th century terminus station by a modern underground through station. A win-win solution that will accelerate train traffic and at the same time liberate precious ground within the city for green spaces and urban development. The project named Stuttgart 21 was discussed in all aspects by experts, presented in public hearings, and easily passed in its final version the state parliament since the Federal Railway will bear the lion's share with respect to financing. Only the Green party always was against the project. All seemed clear and had been democratically approved but when the construction eventually began citizens opposing the project started public protests at the building site hindering the progress of the work. A mediator failed in his attempt to arbitrate.


For Baden-Württemberg's green-red state government the situation became delicate with the Social Democrats in favor, the Greens against Stuttgart 21. The only possibility to keep their coalition intact was to ask the people and have them decide in a referendum. Such a procedure is complicated to launch. Eventually we were asked whether we agree that the government starts bail out negotiations with the Federal Railway. Estimated costs for abandoning Stuttgart 21 the state of Baden-Württemberg would have to shoulder range from only 350 million believing the adversaries to 1.5 billion according to the supporters of the project.


From my previous blogs you know that I am a railway aficionado preferring a six hour train ride to a ninety minute flight like the other day from Freiburg to Berlin. I hate the stress of going to Basel airport by bus having to be there too early. I detest the checks after the check-in and don't like landing far out of the city taking a bus downtown Berlin. On the other hand I step on the train in Freiburg and step off in Berlin main station enjoying a good book and you guessed it the pot of coffee and the Butterkuchen now 5.70 euro compared to 5 euro last fall.

Coming back to our topic: A couple of weeks ago the state government had issued a booklet containing the pros and cons of Stuttgart 21. This didn't change my mind but not because I am biased. I was open for any good argument but those of the adversaries were just aggressive statements.

What made the story of the referendum really weird was that those who want Stuttgart 21 being built must vote no and those who are against have to vote yes because - as I said before - we only decide about a law authorizing the government to enter into negotiations with the Federal Railway to abandon the project.

Although it is quite certain that the nays will have it the protests against Stuttgart 21 will continue. Crazy!

28 November 2011
Note added in proof: As expected the referendum ended with 58.8% nays in Baden-Württemberg. Thus Stuttgart 21 will be built. The participation was only 48.3%. Even in mostly concerned Stuttgart 52.9% of the people voted with no. Freiburg however was the great exception and had with only 33.5% the lowest figure of naysayers in our Ländle. Should I now feel like a loser or winner?

In today's Badische Zeitung
Even before the final result of the referendum was known adversaries brandished panels in front of Stuttgart's main station: You won't get rid of us.

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