German Bundestag President Bärbel Bas would favour a citizens' assembly on the issue of compulsory COVID-19 vaccination. "If citizens' assemblies were already a fixed element, we would have randomly selected citizens in a representative way to debate compulsory vaccination," Bas said in an interview with the taz published on 31 January 2022.
"Citizens' assemblies can help to listen to each other more. We are experiencing deep divisions right now. The diction on social media is escalating. Inhibitions are being lost," the Bundestag President regrets. According to Bas, citizens' assemblies should be institutionally integrated into parliamentary work. "I don't want to pre-empt the parliamentary groups, but my idea is that they could be attached to the petitions committee," Bas suggests.
Mehr Demokratie recommends citizens' assembly
Before the Bundestag President, the association "Mehr Demokratie" (More Democracy) had already proposed a citizens' assembly on compulsory vaccination. "A possible compulsory vaccination affects everyone in the country and it is a highly controversial issue," Claudine Nierth, spokesperson for the board of the association, explained on 19 January 2022. Lack of time is not an argument against a citizens' assembly, Nierth emphasised: "Since a possible compulsory vaccination would come too late for the current wave anyway, there is nothing to be said against an extensive debate involving citizens."
According to Mehr Demokratie's assessment, twelve weeks of preparation time would be sufficient for a citizens' assembly. The assembly could start in May 2022 and present results as early as June. Resolutions could then be passed in the last weeks of the session before the summer recess.
Guardrail for MPs
The assembly recommendations could serve as a kind of guardrail for individual MPs in the event of a decision on compulsory vaccination. At the state and local levels, there have already been and still are mini publics on the subject of COVID-19 - but so far, no single topic such as compulsory vaccination has ever been dealt with.
The coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP wants to improve political decision-making at the federal level with randomly selected citizens' assemblies. "We will set up and organise citizens' assemblies on specific issues through the Bundestag. In doing so, we will pay attention to equal participation. Referral of the results to the Bundestag will be ensured," reads the coalition agreement of the three parliamentary parties.
In order to institutionalize citizens' assemblies, it would be consequential for the Bundestag to create a specific legal framework for the implementation of such assemblies. The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Institute for Democracy and Participation Research (IDPF) at the University of Wuppertal had developed a handout on this in 2021. At the same time, Prof. Dr. Jan Ziekow from the University of Speyer had prepared a legal opinion to review the legal framework for the activities of sortition-based citizens' assemblies in a complementary function to the work of the German Bundestag.