Common Property “Land” – A Dome-Day in the Border Triangle DE-AT-CH

by | 14. November 2018

Bregenz | After a week on tour through Western Austria and South Tyrol, the way led to Bregenz at Lake Constance. Here in the border triangle of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the topic was explosive: the soil question. Gerhard Schuster reports on the two exciting Dome Talks.
Our Dome Event in Bregenz differed from the previous stops of the European Public Sphere. On the one hand the “land question” was a very special and concrete topic and, on the other hand, we invited people from three countries to gather different experiences.

Early in the morning, we erected the dome in Bregenz at the Kornmarktplatz, directly next to the Vorarlberg Museum – the “most beautiful place in the country”, as the mayor of Bregenz, Markus Linhart, said in his welcoming address. This time we had not only invited to our usual Dome Talks but had also described the whole event as a “theme and information day” and advertised it in the region. Even the information table with its colorful flyers and brochures showed the variety of initiatives active in this field. Hence a lively exchange between the participants and passers-by arose – even before we met under the dome.

Lively discussions already in front of the dome
In 2016 we founded the citizens’ initiative “Lebensraum Weiler”. A production plant wanted to settle in the Bundesland’s green zone. We fought back and our example shows that public commitment can bring about good solutions for the population. The company settled in Vorarlberg, but only on one-third of the area, and instead three-floored and in a dedicated business area.
Kerstin Friedmann

Citizens' initiative Lebensraum Weiler

Land – a diverse topic

In the discussion, the breadth of the topic became immediately clear: In addition to questions on alternative forms of housing and communal building, political design fields such as spatial and transport planning and urban development were taken into consideration. The problems of centres and the necessity of “densification” were addressed, as was the right balance between land use for housing and agriculture. An important focus of the discussion, however, was also put on questions at the “idea” level – i.e. the aspect of how “land” must basically be thought of to become socially acceptable and sustainable.

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Here we necessarily touched upon the question of ownership. Matthias Wiesmann from the Swiss “Stiftung Nutzungseigentum am Boden” (Foundation for Land Use Property on the Ground) summed it up right from the start: Property of land is actually not possible; rather, its use must be thought of in an “ownership-like” way and so the social function of land use must be looked at.
Concrete issues in the region

One concrete problem in Vorarlberg is “land hoarding”. The land dedicated as building land was not built on, but serves as a property investment and speculation object and is therefore not available to the need for development.

Should new areas now be converted or even the protected open spaces of the green zone be used?

Kerstin Riedmann from the citizens’ initiative “Lebensraum Weiler” reports, for example, on how a production company in the Vorarlberg municipality of Weiler wanted to establish itself in this green zone. Through civic commitment, a solution could be found without touching the open space.

Video of the first Dome Talk in Bregenz
The association Bodenfreiheit (Ground Freedom) has addressed this problem of land use and the concomitant speculation in Vorarlberg as a whole. Through buying strategically important properties, the attempt to get in the way of land speculation is made  – a “paradoxical intervention”, as Martin Strele, the chairman of the association, calls this procedure.

Further questions were also addressed, such as the ecological dimension of the land question. For Mathias Forster, for example, who as former managing director of the Trigon Foundation was for long primarily concerned with the question of property or common property, the dimension of soil quality became increasingly important. He is the initiator of the Bodenfruchtbarkeitsfonts (Soil Fertility Font) and also emphasizes the political implications, for example, of agricultural subsidies.

Soil fertility is also a public good. Therefore, agricultural subsidy policy must be changed towards land ownership not being subsidized regardless of whether you leave behind a desert or more fertile soil. Targeted, specific measures of a non-profit nature should be promoted. That is why we created the Soil Fertility Font.
Mathias Forster

Bio Foundation Switzerland

Land as a Question of Direct Democracy

Again and again, the issue of direct democracy came up. In the border triangle on the German side just north of Lindau lies the municipality of Achberg, where the International Cultural Centre Achberg has been located since the 1970s – a stationary European Public Sphere, as Herbert Schliffka characterized the cultural centre. More than 30 years ago, the idea of three-level popular legislation was developed here as a direct-democratic supplement to parliamentarianism. The International Cultural Centre is also one of the partner organizations of the European Public Sphere.

Furthermore, the topic was represented and introduced by Armin Amann and Markus Mennel of “Mehr Demokratie Vorarlberg”.

To me – being an employee in Achberg and also active in this field in Austria – the thoughts and arguments on direct democracy were not alien. Only referendums could make it possible to discuss such issues in a broader and more detailed way across society and to also take legal decisions.
But direct democracy is not a “miracle cure” with which all problems can be solved overnight. An example from direct-democratic Switzerland made this clear. Several popular initiatives have taken place in Switzerland on the subject of land, but addressing this question has also led to the right to property being anchored even more firmly in constitutional law – probably a step backward from the point of view of most participants under the dome.

And yet: direct-democratic processes can bring issues into the larger discussion and thus into consciousness, but the space to educate the democratic public and revive it is also needed. This is what we want to promote with the European Public Sphere. But the possibility of initiating a direct-democratic process is the prerequisite for conducting a binding social debate. It is binding because, in the end, the outcome can also be a valid law.

Video of the second Talk
The land question is one thing, but we have also seen that it is related to the general question of money and property. And there is one important statement that very few people are aware of: “Money doesn’t work”. Somebody always breaks his back as money increases or society or nature is damaged. It never happens without costs for someone else.
Heinz Girschweiler

NWO-Foundation Belcampo

The bridge between local initiatives and Europe

Finally, I would like to emphasize one aspect that came up somewhat controversially during the Dome Talk. Under the dome of the European Public Sphere, we also always want to look at the various questions and problems in the “Europe” dimension. However, Europe is often perceived as something abstract acting from “above” and are there not enough problems in front of our own doorstep to be taken care of? And in Vorarlberg, in particular, there are successful examples of civic involvement at the local level, as the example of the establishment of the company in Weiler shows. However, it is precisely these real-life examples, together with the fundamental considerations on newly conceived forms of land ownership or use, or on the question of land dedication and speculation, that could very well carry fruits at the European level.

Ich könnte mir z.B. gut eine Europäische Bürgerinitiative „Recht auf Boden“ vorstellen, ähnlich wie es die ECI „Right2Water“ gibt. Beides – Wasser und Boden – können als Gemeingut verstanden werden und ein gemeinwohlorientierter und nachhaltiger Umgang damit als klare politische Forderung in dem größeren Rechtsraum der Europäischen Ebene eingebracht werden. Aber nicht so gedacht, dass Europa von oben in die regionalen Belange hineinregiert, sondern dass aus den konkreten Erfahrungen Impulse für die Neugestaltung des gemeinsamen, größeren Rechtsraums gewonnen werden.

War der erste Dome-Talk stärker von lokalen Initiativen und ihren Erfahrungen geprägt, ging es im zweiten Kuppelgespräch mehr um die Systemfrage. Jetzt wurde auch die Rolle der Wirtschaft und des Geldes deutlicher angesprochen. Es lohnt sich die Videos der beiden Runden anzusehen. Es ist sehr bereichernd, wenn die verschiedensten Menschen – initiative Bürgerinnen und Bürger, in der Sache verantwortliche Politikerinnen und Politikern und Menschen, die sich mitunter seit Jahren mit Konzepten und Ideen zur Boden- und anderen Gesellschaftsfrage befassen – über ein gemeinsames Thema mit all seinen Fassetten ins Gespräch kommen. Der Tag in Bregenz spornte mich an, unser Kuppel-Projekt auch im kommenden Jahr kräftig weiterzubringen!

Beteiligung und Vernetzung:

BIO AUSTRIA Vorarlberg (A) ›››
Bio-Stiftung Schweiz (CH) ›››
Bodenfruchtbarkeitsfonds (CH) ›››
Bürgerinitiative “Lebensraum Weiler” (A)  ›››
Bürgermeister der Stadt Bregenz (A) Dipl.-Ing. Markus Linhart  ›››
Confoedera – Bodentreuhand-Gesellschaft (CH) ›››
Die Grünen Vorarlberg (A) Nina Tomaselli ›››
European Credit Initiative (A/D) ›››
European Public Sphere (A/D) ›››
Internationales Kulturzentrum Achberg (D) ›››
Kultur- und Projektraum Eulenspiegel in Wasserburg (D) ›››
Mehr Demokratie Vorarlberg (A) ›››
NEOS Vorarlberg (A) Dr. Sabine Scheffknecht  ›››

NWO – Stiftung Belcampo (CH) ›››
Nachhaltigkeitsnetzwerk “Wirundjetzt” (D) ›››
Naturschutzbund Vorarlberg (A) ›››
Netzwerk “Gemeingut Boden” (CH) ›››
Netzwerk Immovielien (D) ›››
Stiftung Edith Maryon (CH) ›››
Stiftung Nutzungseigentum am Boden (CH) ›››
Stiftung TRIGON (CH) ›››
Stiftung trias (D) ›››
Vau hoch drei – Für eine gemeinwohlorientierte Raumordnung (A) ›››
Verein Bodenfreiheit (A) ›››
Zeitschrift Die Welle (D) ›››