On 29 September 2023, the Citizens' Assembly "Nutrition in Transition" started its work in Berlin. The randomly selected mini public is the first citizens' assembly mandated by the German Bundestag.
The first session of the citizens' assembly was opened by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas.
During the first weekend, the participants exchanged their views and concerns on the topic of nutrition. Afterwards, they received information on the topic of nutrition from various experts. On the basis of this, they identified three thematic areas they wanted to work on:
- Labels and labelling for food
- Animal husbandry and animal welfare
- Affordability of food
This first session will be followed by two more weekends in Berlin and a total of six online sessions for in-depth discussion and compilation of the recommendations in a citizens' report. This is to be handed over to the members of the German Bundestag by the end of February 2024.
The topic of the citizens' assembly was determined by the members of parliament. The Council of Elders of the Bundestag had appointed a Citizens' Assembly Rapporteur Group for this purpose, in which all parliamentary groups of the German Bundestag are represented. The rapporteur group had discussed different proposals for topics and finally agreed on the topic "Nutrition in Transition: Between Private Matters and State Responsibilities". The SPD, the Greens, the FDP and the Left had introduced this topic proposal as a motion in the Bundestag. The majority of the MPs approved the motion on 10 May 2023.
Participants randomly selected from the population
The participants of the Citizens' Assembly were randomly selected nationwide from all residents aged 16 and over. The Citizens' Assembly is intended to represent the diversity of society as well as possible and also to make visible the voices that are otherwise less present in political discussions. For this purpose, the 160 participants were randomly selected in a multi-stage procedure.
In a first step, 19,327 people were randomly selected from the population registers of 82 municipalities drawn by lot throughout Germany and written to. 2,220 of them expressed their interest in participating. From these responses, a computer algorithm was used to compile 1,000 possible citizens' assemblies, each with 160 participants, one of whom was randomly selected by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas on 21 July 2023.
A reflection of the population
In compiling the 1,000 potential citizens' assemblies, care was taken to ensure that the algorithm determined the participants in terms of age, gender, origin (federal state and municipality size) and educational background in such a way that each of the 1,000 citizens' assemblies accurately reflected the proportions of the population in Germany. In addition, it was ensured that the Citizens' Assembly on Nutrition accurately reflects the proportion of the population that eats a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Participating citizens will receive 50 euros for each digital session and 200 euros for attending the face-to-face sessions in Berlin (each from Friday afternoon to Sunday noon), for a total of up to 900 euros. In addition, they will be provided with hotel rooms and meals free of charge and their travel expenses will be reimbursed.
"A great honour for me"
The participants express their delight at their random selection. "Of course it was a great honour for me. I didn't expect it because it's really very, very unlikely that you'll get in. And when I was selected anyway, it was a very nice surprise," says 16-year-old student Hengwin Chammo from Bad Salzuflen.
"You don't often get so lucky in life. If it's always like this now, I'll play the lottery too," joked Hudson Luis (32) from Cologne. Arne Dehne (50) from Geestland thinks it is important that chance reigns at the citizens' assembly: "Just as it happened to me by chance who has been working in food distribution for 14 years, maybe there will be a baker, a farmer or a housewife who is just as passionate about nutrition for her family. If it's always just about expertise, we're not going to get anywhere."
"This feels so good"
Nicola Wilkeit, an IT administrator from Bremen, thinks it's "a good thing that it's not always just about thinking what could be good for the citizens, but the citizens are asked, what do you want?"
The first assembly weekend left an impression. "We were totally different people. Everyone is listened to, I think that's very important," said pensioner Ute Hilbert from Burscheid in an interview with WDR. "This background knowledge was very interesting and that has already brought me further," said Magdalena Putze-Heinrich from Rehlingen-Siersburg. Susanne Keßler (55) from Hanover raved about how good it feels to get so much information in the citizens' assembly, to be heard and to be able to participate in such a process.
Questions for the participants
In the decision to set up the Citizens' Assembly, the MPs had given the participants a number of questions to answer, such as: "What do citizens expect from the state in terms of food policy?", "What is part of transparent labelling of social conditions, environmental and climate compatibility and animal welfare standards?", "How can citizens be better supported in making purchasing decisions with regard to a healthy diet?" or "What fiscal framework should the state set for food pricing?"
The participants themselves decide on the concrete focal points of the Citizens' Assembly in this area of tension between individual freedom and responsibility for society. The focus should be on measures that the German Bundestag can influence, as it will be the recipient of the recommendations.
Information by experts
Experts ensure that all members of the Citizens' Assembly have approximately the same level of knowledge on the topic of the assembly. To this end, they give short lectures and presentations to the participants. They are also available to answer questions. The discussion with the experts takes place in the large round. The actual debates, however, are held by the participants in small groups to which the experts are not admitted. This ensures that the discussion is fair and open-ended.
The Scientific Advisory Board assists in deciding which experts should give presentations. It consists of eleven scientists from universities or state-recognised institutions who have been nominated by the parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag. The Scientific Advisory Board also supports citizens by examining their proposals for measures and providing an assessment of what effects they would have. This allows participants to make an informed decision on what to recommend to MPs at their final meeting.
Stakeholders can be invited
Stakeholders can be invited to provide input after the expertise of the scientific advisory board has been included. In doing so, it is made transparent to the participants which institution they come from. Stakeholders from the field of nutrition were also informed in a hearing about how the Citizens' Assembly should proceed and were able to provide feedback on this.
The Citizens' Assembly on Nutrition will meet for the last face-to-face session in Berlin from 12 to 14 January 2024 to formulate its recommendations. The results will then be compiled into a citizens' report together with a description of the process and photos of the meetings.
Treatment in Parliament
The Citizens' Assembly is expected to hand over the Citizens' Report to the President of the Bundestag in February 2024. It will then be published as a Bundestag printed paper and submitted for parliamentary deliberation. First of all, there will be a debate in the plenary session of the German Bundestag. Subsequently, the report will be referred to the thematically responsible committees. After the conclusion of the parliamentary deliberations, the Bundestag will decide how to deal with the results.
The participants of the Citizens' Assembly and the public will be informed about the course of the parliamentary deliberations. In this way, they also learn whether results are rejected, adopted in part or in full.