German MPs on citizens' assemblies

15. May 2020

On the online platform, activists of the movement "Extinction Rebellion" asked many MPs questions about randomly selected citizens' assemblies. They wanted to know whether the representatives of the people consider citizens' assemblies to be a suitable instrument for solving the problem in view of the climate crisis. The answers paint an interesting picture.

Bundestag Vice-President Thomas Oppermann (SPD), for example, wants to "take a close look" at the French climate assembly in order to draw conclusions for its possible use in Germany. For SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich, it is "questionable, but open to discussion" whether a citizens' assembly is the solution to the problems associated with climate change. Wiebke Esdar, a caucus colleague, on the other hand, finds citizens' assemblies "on balance exciting and would also be open to trying it out".

"Worth a try"

In the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, the tone is very different. For CDU MP Thorsten Frei, "it would be worth a try to enrich Germany's tried and tested model of representative democracy at the federal level with deliberative elements". Frei was present as a representative of his parliamentary group at the handover of the Citizens' Report of the Citizens' Assembly on Democracy to Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble in Berlin on 15 November 2019. CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak believes "that citizens' assemblies can complement parliamentary democracy. At the end of the day, of course, decisions have to be made in parliaments, because only they are legitimised by the people. In principle, however, I consider complementary bodies to be very important. They give parliamentarians a picture of the mood and they involve people in the political process," says the Member of the Bundestag from Iserlohn.

Klaus-Peter Willsch, a member of parliament for the CDU/CSU, does not like sortition in politics. "We don't need assemblies where self-appointed do-gooders give free rein to their fantasies," he writes on Responses from some other Union MPs also include rejection. Examples: Citizens' assemblies would not increase legitimacy. Citizens should have the opportunity to participate in elections and to get involved in parties, associations and initiatives. Under no circumstances should self-appointed groups or assemblies without democratic legitimacy replace elected representatives.

"Permanently anchor consultative bodies"

"We are watching the idea of the French Citizens' Assembly with great interest," says Green Party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt on behalf of her parliamentary group. "Whether and to what extent this can be a model for Germany remains to be seen. However, from our point of view, we should also succeed in permanently anchoring consultative bodies from the municipal to the national level in Germany," she continues. "I am clearly in favour of testing citizens' assemblies at the federal level, especially on the issue of climate protection," says Anna Christmann, parliamentary group colleague and spokesperson on democracy policy for the Greens in the Bundestag. "Other suitable topics for discussion in a citizens' assembly could be social cohesion, increasing xenophobia or the current handling of the COVID-19 crisis. It is particularly important to clarify such issues in discourse with citizens and to draw conclusions for political action. I consider this an enrichment in a living democracy," Christmann continued.

FDP parliamentary party leader Christian Lindner also supports the idea of a climate assembly in principle. "One can gladly discuss a participation platform in matters of climate policy analogous to the Citizens' Assembly on Democracy. However, one has to differentiate: The goals of climate policy must be determined democratically. This can be flanked by broad participation opportunities, but the final decision must be made in parliament," he writes. "A participation platform for climate protection in the form of a citizens' assembly is an idea we support in principle. A citizens' assembly can help shape the shape of climate policy goals," says FDP deputy leader and member of parliament Katja Suding.

"For democratisation and participation"

"The Left Party is committed to democratisation and enabling democratic participation. This also applies to climate policy and questions of socio-ecological transformation," party chair Katja Kipping responds to It must be clear what happens to the findings of participation formats and what their scope is. "We are in favour of a climate assembly. Because climate change affects everyone and everyone differently. Citizens' assemblies do not replace elected decision-making bodies but enrich them with their voice(s)," said Lorenz Gösta Beutin, a Left Party MP.

AfD MPs were not interviewed by Extinction Rebellion activists.

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