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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

30.06.2009 | New publication:

Well known, but still room for improvement

First representative survey on the German petition system yields surprising results

Two of three Germans know their right of petition well, every fifth has exercised it. Petitions are submitted in general by older well educated men, where the thorough treatment of their request is seen as more important as a swift reply. There are no significant differences between new (former East German) and old (former West German) federal states. These are some of the conclusions that the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament, which is operated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), has drawn from the first representative survey of the German petition system. This study is being presented to the public today at the yearly press conference of the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag in presence of the president of the Bundestag, Mr. Norbert Lammert (MP).

The right to approach Parliaments and public authorities with petitions is granted by the Germany constitution as a civil right. Petitions are for the most part complaints or requests to change or adopt certain legislation. Data about the prominence and the usage of the right of petition in Germany have not yet been at hand. This knowledge gap has now been closed with the survey »Prominence and prestige of the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag and usage of the right of petition in Germany", that has been commissioned by the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB). The TAB based in Berlin is operated by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the KIT.

Among the possible addressees of petitions (petitions committees and ombudsmen of the German federal states and of the European Parliament), the Petitions Committee of the Bundestag is the best known institution: 52,4 % have already heard about it. At the same time the petition system is in competition to other procedures of political participation. Here the rates of involvement into collection of signatures (64.5 %), demonstrations (41.2 %), public political discussions (39.6 %) and direct approach to representatives of politics or administration (35.6 %) surpass clearly the 21.4 % who have participated in petitions. »Nevertheless«, sais Ulrich Riehm, »the fact that about every fifth German has already employed the instrument of petition is evidence that this civil right is definitely significant to the people«.

With regard to the treatment of their petition by the German Bundestag for 37.7 % of the people polled the thoroughness ranks first followed by a comprehensible feedback and a swift reply. So far mainly the long handling time in the petition procedure has been criticised in the public. Also surprising is the preference of different ways to submit a petition to the German Bundestag: In the first place there is the letter with 48 %, in second place is to put forward the case in person (26.7 %) and in third position the submission via the internet. In the age group up to 24 years the personal presentation - which is not scheduled today - is even the method of first choice. Here it can be seen that the addition of the internet to the hitherto existing submission medium, the letter, does by no means fulfil all the wishes of the people with respect to an easy and effective access to the Petitions Committee.

In total 1.014 people have been polled over the phone in November 2008. The survey is fully representative for the German resident population over 16 years of age, for people of foreign nationality there is only a limited representativeness. The poll is part of the technology assessment project »Public electronic petitions and civil participation", which has been executed by TAB on behalf of the Bundestag in the years 2006 to 2008. It was motivated by the pilot project "Public Petitions« that was started in September 2005, in which the Bundestag embraced the internet into the petitions procedures. Since then petitions can be submitted electronically, can be supported and underwritten in the internet and can be discussed in fora.

The Berlin based TAB has scientifically accompanied the pilot project »Public Petitions« has asked about outputs, outcomes and impacts and has put the analyses into the context of development of the petition system and e-Democracy. The elements of the pilot project were appraised positively by the people polled: The possibility to get informed about petitions via the internet which was introduced in 2005 is judged "good" or "very good" by 73 % of the people polled. Likewise 65.8 % appreciate the opportunity to discuss and the possibility to underwrite petitions in the internet.

The results of the survey are being published in the TAB-Background Paper No 17; it is available from the Office of Technology Assessment of the German Parliament or can be downloaded from the webpage of TAB. The final report of the project has been published as a book in June 2009 (Ulrich Riehm, Christopher Coenen, Ralf Lindner, Clemens Blümel: Bürgerbeteiligung durch E-Petitionen. Analysen von Kontinuität und Wandel im Petitionswesen, Edition Sigma, ISBN 978-3-8360-8129-0).