"New opportunities for participation"


Brigitte Geißel and Stefan Jung argue for the introduction of "participation councils" at the federal level in a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. An excerpt from the study:

"In addition to German citizens of full age, young people from the age of 14 and foreigners who have been living in Germany for at least three months are selected to participate. (...) Three groups are involved in a participation council. The first group consists of randomly selected and specifically recruited citizens. The second group consists of government employees and/or members of the Bundestag committees on the respective policy issues. The last group is made up of experts and interest representatives who can submit statements and be heard within the framework of the participation council. Citizens make up at least two thirds of the participants.

Initiation by the government, the Bundestag or the population

Participation councils can be initiated by the Bundestag or the federal government or by the population. They are not a permanent body, but their place in the institutional structure and their relationship to the political institutions are clearly defined. Participatory councils are based at the Bundestag via a permanent coordination office and are complemented by an online portal. In a combination of online and offline consultations, they develop recommendations for political decision-makers, who are obliged to account for the further handling of the results. Participatory councils offer the opportunity to strengthen and future-proof our representative democracy by making the tried and tested processes of decision-making and policy formulation more transparent and responsive, and by complementing them with a citizen's perspective. It is hoped that this will not only enrich the political process and its outcomes, but also help people regain some confidence in our democracy and its representative actors, but also in their own democratic effectiveness.

Receiving recommendations from the citizenry

Participatory councils enable the federal government, the Bundestag and civil society to identify and define political problems and to receive recommendations from the citizenry for proposed legislation. Likewise, in the framework of participation councils, already existing draft laws are discussed from the citizens' point of view. Both are carried out by randomly selected citizens who bring the greatest possible diversity of interests and perspectives to the consultations, which take place both online and on site.

Participatory councils are organised by a coordinating body based at the Bundestag and equally supervised by civil society and political parties. It uses a national online participation portal to make the consultations and their results accessible to all citizens. The participation councils thus offer representatives new opportunities to get in touch with citizens and discuss political problems together with them. Citizens are given new opportunities to participate, which increase the responsiveness and transparency of the political process.

Contribution to political decision-making

Participatory councils bring citizens and politicians together for an informed exchange of perspectives and arguments on a particular issue and emphasise quality debate. The guarantee for such good deliberation is neutral, professional moderation and balanced, comprehensible information. In times of polarisation, exclusion of political dissidents and politics via Twitter, participation councils make a contribution to the formation of political will and to a well-founded democratic discourse. Unlike direct democratic yes/no decisions, participation councils allow for a differentiated discussion of the diverse interests of the population and offer a space for understanding across society.

Central to the composition of participation councils is the goal of inclusive participation. All people have an equal opportunity to participate in the process, and the composition should be as representative as possible of the population, with special consideration given to previously underrepresented groups. To guarantee this, participation councils combine a two-stage random selection with quotas and a special approach to disadvantaged people."

Study: Participation Councils - New ways of political participation at the federal level