Referendums in Germany

The referendums in Germany is an element of direct democracy in Germany. On the federal level only two types of a mandatory binding referendum exist - in changing the constitution and in changing the state territories.

All states have an enacted laws for popular indirect initiatives allowing to collect signatures for a request to the government. The government may issue a poll on any topic whereas the outcome is usually non-binding. The German referendum system has three types

  • Volksbegehren (literally people's request) is a citizens' initiative - if the government ignores the request it could directly lead into a "Volksentscheid"
  • Volksbefragung (literally people's inquiry) is non-binding facultative ballot question and the most common type of referendums
  • Volksentscheid (literally people's decision) is a binding plebiscite but this type is only used if the constitution requires it (mandatory).

The term Volksinitiative (people's initiative) is a synonym of Volksbegehren and it is the official term in Switzerland. On the municipal level the three types are paralleled with

  • Bürgerbegehren (literally citizens' request) as the local citizinens' initiative
  • Bürgerbefragung (literally citizens' inquiry) for a local ballot question and
  • Bürgerentscheid (literally citizins' decision) for local plebiscite.

Note that in in the city states the state citizens' initiative types are commonly called Bürgerbegehren while being at the same legal level as Volksbegehren in other Bundesländer states. Note that the term "Bürgerinitiative" (literally citizens' initiative) is used informally for non-partisan local campaign organizations (political action groups).

Read more about Referendums In Germany:  Federal Concept, Bundesländer, Initiative Quorum

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