German media roundup: Hamburg’s democratic revolt

The decision by voters in Hamburg to torpedo plans to reform the city's schools sparked a decidedly mixed reaction from newspapers in The Local's media roundup on Monday.

German media roundup: Hamburg's democratic revolt
Photo: DPA

Some of Germany’s leading publications warned the referendum on Sunday, which thwarted the city-state government’s attempt to create a common primary school up to sixth grade, would complicate educational policy nationwide. But others welcomed more direct democracy, as citizens revolted against unpopular policies implemented by out-of-touch politicians.

The website of weekly Die Zeit called the referendum against the school reform “a panicky segregation of the middle class” that will only aggravate the city’s educational woes.

“The vote doesn’t only mean the end of (children) learning together longer. It’s also a manifestation of the fears of the middle class. The opponents of reform didn’t have many good arguments. There’s a reason why children in all European countries aside from Austria learn together up till at least the sixth grade.”

Die Zeit said it wasn’t surprising that the fear-mongering had worked, but warned the middle class could not simply shut out those less fortunate and expect society to function.

“We’re on the path back to times when it wasn’t achievement that mattered, but where you came from. But whoever puts up walls and guards to protect themselves from the rabble will soon need to do just that.”

A commentary in Munich’s centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung focused on the growing importance of referenda in Germany.

Calling the recent votes for a smoking ban in Bavaria and against Hamburg’s school reform a type of “citizen militia,” the paper said the times when Germany’s politicians could dictate policy from upon high were over.

“A referendum certainly isn’t a magic potion that can simply be poured into a democracy – it’s more like medication. And medicine can have side-effects,” Süddeutsche wrote. “One has to be aware of the symptoms and pick the proper dosage.”

Regional daily Hamburger Abendblatt called the city-state a “new crisis centre of representative democracy” and called for new elections.

“All members of the city parliament have been exposed as alienated through the vote and from their constituents. All parties in parliament were in unusual agreement in favour of the school reform that failed by a majority in yesterday’s vote.”

“Apparently the parliamentarians no longer represent the votes and attitudes of their constituents. A city parliament that does not reflect the will of the citizenry in central community questions has forfeited its democratic legitimacy. Therefore the citizens must be asked again who should lead this city, and with what ideas and projects.”

Centrist Berlin paper Der Tagesspiegel said that while the weekend’s events in Hamburg were the result of local circumstances, they would have nationwide impact.

While the referendum issue was education, the disconnect between outgoing Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust’s coalition and the voters and his unwillingness to take on responsibility was a broader echo of situations happening in state parliaments across the nation, the paper said.

“Ole von Beust’s job fatigue finds its analogue in other state parliaments – the announcement of Roland Koch’s resignation is an example here – and also in the federal government, as the resignation of President Horst Köhler shows,” the paper went on.

Beust, who resigned just hours before the referendum result was announced, did not take a consistent political position, the paper alleged.

“The disquiet and unhappiness of the voters is a result of this in Hamburg, but also in the rest of the republic,” it concluded.

Left-wing daily Tageszeitung said that Beust had a double mission during his time as mayor – to open his conservative Christian Democrats to cooperation with the Greens and to encourage the modernisation of the CDU’s education policy.

“Both missions culminated in a symbol – the fight for the six-year primary school,” the paper said, adding that the struggle was over before the referendum results had even been tallied.

“Because in Hamburg referendums are binding. The power is therefore transferred to the citizens, the mayor from politician to executive organ. Thus it was consistent to step down on the day of the referendum.”

Beust’s decision, the latest in a string of high-ranking CDU resignations, will resonate on a national level, the paper said.

“No doubt, the CDU is disintegrating,” it added, saying that many would blame party leader and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the end.

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IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

Sweden's Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) chain has been denied permission to open four new schools in Gothenburg, Huddinge, Norrtälje, and Upplands-Bro, after the schools inspectorate said it had not provided pupil data.

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has denied permission to the chain to open a new planned new school in Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, even though the building that will house it is already half built. The inspectorate has also denied permission to three other schools which the chain had applied to start in 2023. 

In all four cases, the applications have been rejected because the school did not submit the required independent assessment for how many pupils the schools were likely to have. 

Jörgen Stenquist, IES’s deputy chief executive, said that IES has not in the past had to submit this data, as it has always been able to point to the queues of pupils seeking admissions to the school. 

“The fact that Engelska Skolan, as opposed to our competition, has never had the need to hire external companies to do a direct pupil survey is because we have had so many in line,” he told DN.

“In the past, it has been enough that we reported a large queue in the local area. But if the School Inspectorate wants us to conduct targeted surveys and ask parents directly if they want their children to start at our new schools, then maybe we have to start doing that.”


According to the newspaper, when the inspectorate had in the past asked for pupil predictions, the chain has refused, stating simply “we do not make student forecasts”, which the inspectorate has then accepted. 

However, in this year’s application round, when IES wrote: “We do not carry out traditional interest surveys as we simply have not had a need for this,” the inspectorate treated it as grounds to reject its applications. 

According to DN, other school chain have been complaining to the inspectorate that IES gets favourable treatment and was excused some requirements other chains have to fulfil. 

Liselotte Fredzell, from the inspectorate’s permitting unit, confirmed that the inspectorate was trying to be more even handed. 

“Yes, it is true that we are now striving for a more equal examination of applications. Things may have been getting too slack, and we needed to tighten up.”