Public Consultation on Refugee Placement (Constance, Germany)
- Specific Topics
- Refugee Resettlement
- Start Date
- End Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Decision Methods
- General Agreement/Consensus
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Report
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Traditional Media
Public consultations were held on two new refugee placements. Efforts to engage citizens involved minimal participation but what opinions citizens could articulate were taken into account by the deciding authorities.
Problems and Purpose
In 2015, the number of refugees suffering on the way to Central Europe increased again. One of the main target countries for them is Germany. This development is even tangent to the region of Constance and leads to the demand for new housing for refugees, emergency accommodation as well as placements of continuity. These are at the disposal of refugees having stayed for a period in a placement of community but finally awarded any residence title for specific purposes. Respectively the building under construction of the named placements of continuity, the municipal administration of Constance conducts a consultation procedure. While its purpose is by definition to engage the local citizens, they evaluate the procedure as a fake and protest against it.
 According to data provided by the German Department of the Interior the number of applications for Asylum in 2015 was 467.649, compared to 202.834 in 2014 and even lower numbers over the past years.
Background History and Context
The enlargement of civic participation in Constance is based, amongst others, upon the discussion in the Economic and Social Committee, on 18th March, 2015. The importance of a constructive dialogue with citizens was highlighted by many members of the municipal council (Stadt Konstanz 2015a). On behalf of the increasing numbers of refugees, in May 2015 the municipal administration was under considerable strain to find out the suitable locations for new placements of continuity. Two locations for about 110 persons in sum are under discussion. In July 2015, it turns out that the Konstanz-Egg location and Zergle location are in favor of selection. In order to gain time and to enable local acceptance, the municipal administration imposed a moratorium on the planning procedure. However, on the 23rd July, 2015 the municipal council voted for a continuing technical preparation of the plans.
At once, in the same meeting, the representatives have adopted the introduction of consultation procedures. These were submitted in a second request by the FGL (Freie Grüne Liste) party (Stadt Konstanz 2015c). In the civic society, renitences towards the planning do exist.
In Egg, the association “Egger Bürgergemeinschaft e.V.” can be regarded as the voice of critics. The main interest of this association is to sustain the central grassland as a playground and a meeting point. Many citizens in Egg proclaim the ignorance of their interests by the local ad-ministration. In Egg the firstly indented location was changed from the central grassland to the Flurweg outlying of the micro village. The final decision for the construction scheme, including the change of location in Egg, was done by the municipal parliament on the 22nd October, 2015 (Stadt Konstanz 2015b). Civic protests were formed as well at the Zergle location. A community of interests criticizes an insufficient communication by the municipal administration.
Additionally, two basic aspects mark the beginning of the story and should be kept clearly in mind. Firstly, areas classified as public ones were made available for the use of refugee placements by the legislative authority. This was not the case before the 25th November, 2014.
Secondly, the Baden-Württemberg federal government made subsidies for such placements of continuity available. An application on money for these subsidies was submitted by the municipal administration on the 09th April, 2015 (Schröpel 2015, p. 5) without any specific agreements or the prior survey of citizens’ opinion. The financial contribution to both facilities is exactly 1 748 250 Euros (Stadt Konstanz 2015b).
Both, the pressure of refugees and the chance of financial support lead towards the unilateral acting by the municipal administration. One of my key questions during this unobtrusive research is: How to perform civic consultation on already determined planning? This case is of crucial interest for me because its deeper understanding may help to identify causal mechanisms of deliberative democracy. The small academic void consists of not existing case studies on this topic in Constance and of the first consultation procedure ever implemented by the local administration.
 For the legal sources see: §9 Abs. 1 Nr. 5 BauGB (Building Law and areas of public good), BGBI 2014 Teil 1 Nr. 53 (Federal Law Gazette on new arrangements in the Planning Law) and §1 Abs. 6 Nr. 13 BauGB (added point of issues concerning refugees and their placements).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
A budget of 50 000 Euros was provided for the consultation procedure’s conduction (Stadt Konstanz 2015c).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
For the informative meetings, no restrictions or selections prohibiting the participation of certain people do exist. It is possible to sign up for a mailing list and the access to the relevant documents is permitted. In short, this dimension can be ranged as Open, Self-selection (Fung 2006, p. 68). If it becomes more controversial, as is the Zergle case, according to the law, only directly neighboring residents were allowed to formulate objections.
Methods and Tools Used
First, the protests of good organized citizen’s initiatives increase the will for participation. By means of on-site Egg inspections and citizen’s formal and informal requests and letters of inquiry, an atmosphere of “missing participation” occurred. Administrative appeals were also brought forward to higher ranks up to the federal government in Stuttgart. Second, the diverse and more or less informal protests flowed into the very formal second cause. The strongest party in the local parliament, FGL, took initiative and applied the conduction of a consultation procedure as a concomitant feature of the process. This was adopted by a majority of votes (23-12-4) (Stadt Konstanz 2015c).
Another aspect was named in the interview with Egg focus. Local citizens are needed for a successful integration of the foreigners. By a “quasi consultation procedure” the influence can be suggested as not to disgruntle the citizens.
The motive of reelection is something that always must be kept in mind in politics. As in the interview with focus on Zergle addressed, this was crucial in this case as well. Pronounced possibilities of participation do have a positive connotation in the public view. Of course, numerous Constance inhabitants are not affected directly by the projects, but they may get some information out of public discussions and get some positive impression. The implementation of participative procedures in Germany’s southwest must be regarded in the general, more holistic setting of an increasing demand for civic participation in Baden-Württemberg due to the failed incidents accompanying the early stages of “Stuttgart 21” major project (Erler 2015, S. 11).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
A first planning on the new locations was made by the municipal administration in spring 2015. This leads to first tensions in Egg and Zergle accompanied by an uncertain mix of informal and formal information. First exploratory discussions were held with Egg residents at the beginning of June. These were very informal and can be regarded as a first part of the participation process but not as the start of consultation. On 09th June, 2015 a general informative meeting for both locations took place in the Wolkensteinsaal. This was the first formal information about the planning by the municipal administration after applying for the subsidies of the Baden-Württemberg federal government on the 09th April, 2015. The resolution by the local parliament on the 23rd July, 2015 manifests the term “consultation procedure (Stadt Konstanz 2015c). Another exploratory discussion was held by the mandatory for civic participation with the main contact persons in Zergle on the 25th August, 2015, because the Zergle community requests persistently for the beginning of the consultation procedure. The aim of this exploratory discussion was to gain clearance about mutual expectations on the upcoming consultation.
By the end of August 2015 on-site inspections by the political parties represented in the local parliament took place in Egg. This does not reflect a formal part of the consultation conducted by the administration. Moreover, it is a result of the high organized citizen’s protest addressed directly towards elected representatives.
An informative meeting exclusive on issues of Zergle occurred on the 12th October, 2015. After outlining the backgrounds as conveying conditions and data on refugees the concrete planning was presented followed by the possibility of posing questions and a moderated discussion.
Accordingly, the informative meeting exclusive on Egg issues was conducted in the multi-purpose hall in Allmannsdorf on 26th October, 2015 and was joined directly with the second ruling in the municipal council. Following the perception of the municipal administration these two meetings made the consultation procedure (Schröpel 2015, pp. 11–12). Further consultation on the decisions in the subject area of integration is intended as a second degree.
The formal procedure of consultation consists of two stages. At first the named individual informative meetings and furthermore a second step on the topic of integration and on how a district can contribute to the success. The municipal council initiative the idea of consultation.
 In the case of Egg this can be substantiated by the attendance and notes of Jens Lindemann.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Both, Zergle and Egg cases, have never been open proceedings. Citizen’s influence on the decision-making process was premeditated to a limited extent during all stages. Nevertheless, some effects on two opposite directions can be outlined. If it comes to the analyses of effects, it is highly important to distinguish between effects towards the municipal administration of Constance and effects towards the participants as Egg citizens and Zergle citizens.
It is highly unlikely that assimilable projects will be realized for a second time. Skeptical and disappointed citizens will perhaps not trust these statements but some learning effects can be seen. The administration must stop the misusing of the term “consultation”. Crucial actors in the administration scrutinize the administrations’ own definitions of consultation. In future, socially mixed models of housing for refugees will have a higher chance.
The process of implementing guidelines for civic participation at the Constance municipal administration can be named as another effect in this direction. One of its main aspect will declare the significance of information in better times. Another intended change implemented through these guidelines is a list of upcoming projects, including a short warrant of apprehension which will be published before the relevant decisions are made. This will be implemented in 2017.
Based on late and still unsatisfactory answers by the administration, the citizens improved their capabilities of being able to organize themselves speedily and consistently. People began to show one’s solidarity with each other and to generate a strong community. One common value refers to a climate of distrust towards all statements proposed by the actors of the administration. This seems to prohibit an effective close collaboration with them which is generally named as a principle of both parties. A significant number of Egg and Zergle people see the need to enforce their requests by their own responsibility, in case they are missing the replies by the Constance administration. The social movements protesting against new refugee placements do so, because they miss the accountability in rulings by the local policy-makers. Especially in Zergle a negative atmosphere is conspicuous. On the other hand, it is argued that participation is an optional duty. The administration is under democratic control and it is not bound by the instructions given by e-mail from certain citizens.
In Egg, the position of the accommodation facilities for refugees was relocated from the center to the Flurweg. On the first view, of course this seems to be the clear effect of the consultation procedure, which was defined until now just as informative meetings. On behalf of more detailed questioning it turns out that the protests of the civic would have been noticed anyway. However, no specific consultation arrangements lead towards the change, but somehow the municipal administration provided the chance for participation and the so-called “consultation” was a part of it. So, it can be declined that also without the consultation procedure the location would have changed. With the new placement at Flurweg, potential deficits for the nature recurred. The neighboring areas of environmental importance are potentially affected by the relocation but somehow this has never been a relevant aspect in the process of decision-making.
In Zergle, the generally motivated and engaged inhabitants became discouraged and skeptical by the deficient realization of the implementing process. The attitude has changed from a former positive one to an extremely skeptical and fending one. Another effect is a potential juridical protest by the neighboring residents, resulting from a defaulted or so far failed consultation. Additionally, a planned structural alteration at the building can be regarded as an effect of the protests. One of the main postulations in Zergle was the establishment of free public room serving as an open space for face-to-face encounter and social interaction.
As a brief upshot, it can be outlined that two different perceptions of a consultation procedure are quintessential at this situation. On the one hand, extensive and well-presented information was regarded as the consultation. On the other hand, citizens expected an actual impact on policy-making.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Nothing short of the question if the general public governing can lead to considerations on how strong people’s influence should be. The principle of participation can be linked up between the huge scopes of law and ethics whose conception and value determined politics in different ways over time (Gerhardt 2007, p. 14). The comprehension of the term “participation” differs in political science from the comprehension in everyday language. While a political scientist would link the term with a certain influence on something, the everyday language understands it just as being a part of something (Nève, Olteanu 2013, p. 13). Nevertheless, participation must be regarded as a fundamental element of opinion formation and decision-making process. Amongst others these principles are the basic characteristics of our democratic system which has been challenged by more and more risky decisions and new developments such as digitalization (Hebestreit, Korte 2015, pp. 23–24). In the context of deliberative democracy, which main qualities include equal participation, mutual respect and reasoned argumenting (Rosenberg 2007, p. 2) an undefined number of different cases can be monitored. The aim of analyzing one single case is to be able to educe certain assumptions on a larger set of units (Gerring 2004, p. 352). This can be done by case centered or theory centered case studies. According to Rohlfing (2012, pp. 1–2) the aim of a case centered type is to understand the case better by the help of theory. Corresponding the theory centered type, its aim is to evolve new elements in theory by analyzing the case (Rohlfing 2012, pp. 1–2). The way of choosing a case out of the “universe of cases” (Seawright, Gerring 2008, p. 294) effects the possible conclusions in a significant way. The scale of different methods of case selection and analysis ranges from simple, single cases representing a certain phenomenon to multi complex “most similar” or “most different” cross-case methods (Seawright, Gerring 2008, pp. 295, 297–298).
The consultation in Constance does not really include a procedure as you would expect at the first moment by reading the newspaper articles and the publications on the city’s website. The decisions were almost made by the application for subsidies and the first resolution in the local parliament before so called “consultations” took place. The lack of early consultation can be simply explained by the first-come first-saved principle which applies to the subsidies provided by the federal government. This principle is a strong argument for the municipal administration to act unilateral without extensive participation. Anyway, the consultation had a strong impact on politics in many ways. The main effect in Egg is the relocation from the center of Egg to the Flurweg, which is a big change of the policy. Nevertheless, the consultation has a limited character. It is surprising how big the influence of the civic was. This can be explained by a really illogical first choice of the location at the Egger Wiese, as well as by the high degree of organization at the local protest initiative.
In Zergle, the changes are not that obvious at the first look. At first, the idea of a community room made the impact in Zergle. Second, an increasing negative attitude of the public spread. If it seems to be illogical to provide the citizens with opportunities for participation and in the same way to finalize the project by administration’s own authority, then why the municipal administration did this way? This can be answered by the causal mechanism of politically loaded actions as a response to the protests. Simultaneously from the beginning of the consultation it was clear, but not open communicated, that serious possibilities of decision making will not be included. To reach one of the main aims, namely to obtain the acceptance for future refugees, the participative procedures must be followed. Maybe the chance of establishing a general approach through a successfully pilot scheme of participation was lost.
Eventually learning effects for the municipal administration can be given as the guidelines for civic participation, performing as a tool preventing to make the same mistake again. But still it is questionable if the administrative officers will be able to act in a more effective way. The presuppositions for civic consultation were extremely poor. Not surprisingly it is tough, if not completely impossible, to achieve the successful combination of participation and already more or less practical plans. This ambivalence is strengthened if, as in this case, the expectations on decision-making and effectuating transformations by the citizens are included. Leading to the fact it failed, the first implementation of such procedures in Constance was one of the reasons. Maybe right now the change of municipal administration’s approach can be outlined due to the future projects which will focus more on small living units, spread all over the whole Constance territory.
High expectations on future projects exist because the previous failed. The point in time can be seen as a lack of strength in my analysis. The interviews took place, just in time when the first stage of consultation was conducted, and then logically my results can be biased. A methodological improvement could be made on the Code-Schema. For example, we can create a single code on the guidelines for participation. Further research, as always being necessary, could also have a look at xenophobic tendencies showed by the citizen’s organization. Both initiatives’ argumentation is definitely not based on a racist point of view. But they could be misused as a platform by individual persons with such tendencies. According to this aspect it needs to be kept in mind that it is definitely not a mistake of upcoming refugees that no bottom-up consultation was performed.
To sum up, this case is an example of failed communication and contrasting expectations between the citizens who protested and local authorities. This had an impact on the whole situation. We should not forget that the cases like this one do exist only because of civil wars, political persecution and violence, forcing human beings try to find a secure way for escape accompanied by a miserable failure of European migration policy making.
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Lead image: Oliver Hanser/SÜDKURIER