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February 02, 2007

Will we ever be smoke free?

During the last years I've often lamented the fact that Germany is a Federal State. If you look at everyday politics you get the feeling we still seem to live in this conglomeration of little kingsdoms that lasted until the 20th century. Every federal state is seeking its own advantage and trying to fulfil its own interests instead of contributing to the interests of the whole country. After the experiences that led to WW II precautions were taken to prevent a centralist government coming into power ever again. So we have the 'Deutsche Bundestag' which is the representative body of the Federal Republic of Germany and is elected by the people. It passes Federal laws, elects the 'Bundeskanzler', exercises parliamentary control over the Federal Government and sets the Federal Budget. The corresponding institution in each of our 16 Federal states is the 'Landtag'. Then there is the 'Deutsche Bundesrat' representing the 16 states ('Länder'). Its 69 members are not elected but delegated by the 'Länder'. One of its most important tasks is that it has to approve any of the Federal laws passed by the 'Bundestag' that impinge on the responsibilities of the 'Länder'. You can easily see what might happen of course: one party may have the majority in the 'Bundestag' and another one the majority in the 'Bundesrat' which might effectively slow down your law passing process.

Under the last government from things got so bad that almost no necessary laws and reforms made it through the 'Bundesrat' with each party shoving the blame to the other one. With the present government coming into power at last changes were put into effect. The responsibilities between Government and Länder were newly defined with the aim of fewer laws having to get the approval of the Bundesrat. Well, trust the politicians to make a mess of everything. Somehow they must have completely lost the overall picture. When the reform was approved it turned out that now even more laws have to pass the approval of the Bundesrat than before!

Another example that is affected by this is the proposed ban on smoking. The Government thought the general ban on smoking in public places, restaurants and pubs a great idea and started drafting up a law for it. Until the Länder said 'You can't do that, it's our responsibility now'. And right they were. So now every single one of the 16 Länder decides for itself if it would like to put a ban on smoking in pbulic places or not. You might be allowed to smoke in one restaurant but not in the one in the next village because that is part of another Land.

Some of the Länder want to ban smoking in places where food is served but not in pubs. But they all claim that they want to protect the non-smokers. I think this discussion hypocritical. If you want to protect the non-smokers then ban smoking in all public places like restaurants, pubs and bars. Then perhaps even the non-smokers would return to these places. I cannot see why Germany should not survive a ban when quite a few neighbouring countries like have. No one thought that Italian coffee bars would survive a ban on smoking - but they did. And I heard a few months ago that the Irish have even invented a new pastime - "smirting" (smoking + flirting), meaning you smoke outside the pub and chat up to the girls.

I sometimes wish we could take a more practical and down to earth approach on problems around here. I cannot believe that we shall have to hope for a European law to reach a consensus on smoking in Germany. But that may well be the case.

Posted by Mausi at February 2, 2007 05:33 PM

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