In the German state of Lower Saxony, there are to be randomly selected citizens' assemblies at the state level in future. This was agreed by the SPD and the Greens in their coalition agreement presented on 2 November 2022. It literally says: "In order to strengthen the participation of citizens in political processes, we will create the possibility of setting up citizens' assemblies on selected topics."
This announcement is remarkable in that neither the SPD nor the Greens had mentioned this topic in their programmes for the state elections on 9 October 2022. The fact that citizens' assemblies now nevertheless appear in the coalition agreement is probably due in particular to the efforts of the association "Mehr Demokratie" (More Democracy).
Citizens' assemblies in five other coalition agreements
Lower Saxony is the sixth federal state in which mini publics appear in the coalition agreement of a current state government. This topic is already mentioned in coalition agreements in Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.
In Baden-Württemberg, the Greens and the CDU want to open up state and local politics to a broad application of sortition procedures. In their coalition agreement agreed in 2021, both parties have announced corresponding reforms.
Citizens' forums in Baden-Württemberg
There are to be "citizens' forums with random citizens" on important draft laws. In the state constitution, "bridges are to be built between direct democracy and dialogue-based citizen participation - and thus between citizens and members of parliament". The Greens and the CDU want to expand the popular petition, for example. Up to now, such a motion has made it possible for parliament to deal with an issue. The extension should first make it possible for a citizens' forum with randomly selected citizens to be held at the Landtag. The latter should be able to accept, adapt or reject the proposals.
At the municipal level, the participation of randomly selected citizens in municipal policy decisions is to precede local referenda. This could mitigate polarisation and promote mutual listening. Randomly selected citizens should also be able to have a say in the drawing up of development plans.
Citizens' assemblies in Rhineland-Palatinate
Almost at the same time, the coalition of SPD, FDP and Greens in Rhineland-Palatinate agreed to test citizens' assemblies in planning and change processes.
In North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, too, citizens' assemblies are soon to be introduced at the state level. "In order to be able to include different perspectives in political decision-making processes, we will set up two citizens' assemblies on selected topics that are representative of society and test this instrument at the state level," reads the agreement reached by the CDU and the Greens in NRW. The necessary funds will be made available for the organisation and implementation of the citizens' assemblies.
Reviewing citizen participation with citizens' assemblies
"We are anchoring citizens' assemblies in law at the municipal level and at the state level," reads a succinct statement by the CDU and the Greens in the northernmost federal state.
In Thuringia, the Left, SPD and Greens are of the opinion that the existing instruments of citizen participation must be reviewed. Some of the previous instruments did not achieve the intended goals of effective participation and direct democracy. Therefore, citizens are to be directly involved in the review via citizens' assemblies.
Practice in several federal states
Independently of coalition agreements, there have already been state-wide citizens' assemblies in some federal states in recent years. For example, there were assemblies on the COVID-19 pandemic in Baden-Württemberg, Saxony and Thuringia, on climate change in Berlin and again in Baden-Württemberg on the retirement pensions of members of parliament. A citizens' forum on a "crisis-proof society" is also currently taking place there. In Baden-Württemberg, another citizens' forum on the Black Forest National Park is also planned.