Powerful citizens' assemblies?

19. April 2023

Invented 2,500 years ago by the ancient Greeks and then all but forgotten for a long time, democracy by sortition has been making a comeback in recent years. From the local to the global level, randomly selected citizens deliberate in citizens' assemblies on topics such as climate protection, care, abortions, marriage rights for same-sex couples and more. The results of these assemblies go to governments and parliaments as recommendations for action. However, politicians are not obliged to implement the citizens' proposals.

That's why many people are asking themselves: Can't citizens' assemblies also make binding decisions? Most recently, the NGO "Last Generation" also triggered heated debates with its demand for a binding citizens' assembly on climate policy at the federal level.

The Keys to Democracy

As early as the 1980s, the English classical philologist Maurice Pope developed a new model of government - replacing not just politicians in the executive, but lawmakers in the legislature and judges in the judiciary. As with the court juries in the English-speaking world, these randomly chosen citizens would also be obliged to serve their community. This updated version of Greek sortition, he believed, offers a way out of stagnation, apathy, alienation and polarisation by giving citizens back their decision-making power.

The book The Keys to Democracy: Sortition as a new Model for Citizens' Power, which was not published at the time, was rediscovered by Pope's family after his death in 2019 and was published in March 2023. During this event on 18 April 2023, Maurice Pope's son Hugh Pope presented his father's ideas, which are also advocated by him.

Model for binding citizens' assemblies

Arguing along the same lines as father and son Pope is the Polish deliberative democracy and sustainability expert Marcin Gerwin. He is a coordinator of the Center for Blue Democracy and has conducted several citizens' assemblies at the local level in his home country. Based on this experience, Gerwin developed a model for citizens' assemblies with decision-making power, which he presented at this event.

As a member of the national board of Mehr Demokratie, Sarah Händel presented her organisation's position on citizens' assemblies. Mehr Demokratie has organised two nationwide citizens' assemblies in recent years and has since been advising initiatives, municipalities and governments on the preparation and implementation of mini publics.