Ahead of the state elections in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia on 15 May 2022, the CDU, SPD and Greens are in favour of citizens' assemblies. This is shown by an evaluation of the election programmes of various parties.
The SPD states: "We want to supplement parliamentary and direct democratic procedures with consultative forms of citizen participation, such as citizens' assemblies, without abandoning the principle of representation. At the state level, we will set up citizens' assemblies on specific issues and thereby counteract socially unequal participation in political processes by involving as many interests as possible at an early stage that would otherwise not be taken into account." According to the SPD's ideas, experience with citizens' assemblies should be incorporated into a citizens' participation law in the medium term.
Support for municipalities
In addition, the Social Democrats want to examine procedures at the municipal level that involve joint exchange and collective consideration of concrete decision-making problems. Cities and municipalities are to be supported in adopting regulations for their citizen participation procedures.
The Greens want to convene "citizens' assemblies on selected issues for the future". Experiences from the federal and state level show that citizens' assemblies are strong in finding constructive solutions through dialogue. The state parliament is to discuss the recommendations developed by citizens' assemblies.
Added value for representative democracy
For the FDP, representative democracy adds value through "new instruments of participation". "Possibilities of citizen consultation through house parliaments, the expansion of the right to petition or through randomly selected citizens' assemblies are possible options," say the Liberals. The Left Party is in favour of citizens' assembly experiments at municipal and state level.
The Pirates complain that parliaments are "unfortunately very much filled with professional politicians". There is a lack of diversity. Citizens' assemblies with their consultative function could be a good addition to representative democracy, they say.
Volt sees citizens' assemblies as "an innovative instrument with which citizens can discuss complex political issues and give feedback and recommendations to representative bodies at municipal, but also national or regional level." The party is in favour of citizens' assemblies on concrete issues, which it wants to test at the state and municipal level. The ÖDP is also in favour of citizens' assemblies "as long as they only have an advisory function".
CDU gives confusing answer
In its answer to an enquiry by Mehr Demokratie, the CDU rejects citizens' assembly at the state level, but confuses with its reasoning: "We stand for the broadest possible public participation in order to promote the acceptance of measures. The separation of powers laid down in the Basic Law requires a careful balancing of the many legitimate interests. Especially in modern times, our democracy has shown how adaptable and solution-oriented it is.
Citizens' assemblies are only capable of acting within the framework set by the state and must therefore not be overburdened with hopes and claims to legitimacy. With the Advisory Council on Climate Protection.NRW, we have already established a body made up of various social groups to promote an active exchange on climate protection goals."
All of this could be written down as a justification for citizens' assemblies, because they enable a careful weighing of different interests. Moreover, no one questions that citizens' assemblies are only allowed to act within applicable law. The Advisory Council on Climate Protection.NRW, on the other hand, could very well cooperate with a climate assembly at the state level.
Statement in contradiction to the election programme
In its state election manifesto, the CDU had promised to "implement the recommendations of the Enquete Commission on Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy". In May 2021, the Commission on Subsidiarity and Participation, with the participation of all state parliamentary parties, had recommended "to examine the extent to which (as a first step) a citizens' assembly at the state level can develop a concept for establishing and implementing deliberative procedures for municipalities and the state by testing various discussion formats with the scientific knowledge gained."
On 18 May 2021, the "Subsidiarity and Participation" Commission had presented 85 recommendations for action on the topics of local political volunteering, political participation, political education, digitalisation and on the cooperation of the state parliaments.
"Lay people can have a well-founded say"
"Citizens' assemblies (...) have taken on an increasingly important role in the discussion on suitable instruments for strengthening democracy in recent years," the report of the Enquete Commission states. The citizens, who are selected at random, contribute to the clarification of political issues in close connection with politics and with the participation of experts. In this way, laypersons could participate in informed decision-making.
Thematically, such deliberative procedures have proven their worth in infrastructure measures (especially at the municipal and state level). They are also suitable - as examples from abroad and isolated domestic projects have shown - for procedural questions and institutional policy issues.
State parliament members in favour of citizens' assemblies
In an online event organised by the association "Mehr Demokratie" on 21 March 2022, state parliament members from CDU, SPD, Greens and FDP had spoken out in favour of state-wide citizens' assemblies. "We think the instrument is basically good. There are already many examples. It depends on how it is organised," said CDU state parliament member Björn Franken during the discussion.
For the FDP, Angela Freimuth explained that there is an openness to also deal with the topic of citizens' assemblies in more detail and to also accept them as an instrument to complement representative democracy. "For me, it is an important point that it should be a supplement to representative democracy and not a substitute," the Vice-President of the Landtag explained.
"A good instrument"
According to Matthi Bolte-Richter, the Greens consider citizens' assemblies as a "good instrument". "We as Greens have spoken out in favour of the establishment of a climate assembly in a motion. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we already brought the instrument of citizens' assemblies for the post-COVID-19 period into play as an instrument where you can discuss the post-pandemic world together with citizens in order to also work on scenarios of what a post-pandemic future could look like," Bolte-Richter explained his parliamentary group's activities on the topic. He added that they were eager to tackle the issue in the next legislative period under a new majority.
Prof. Dr. Rainer Bovermann of the SPD is also in favour of citizens' assemblies: "I am actually sure that we will see the citizens' assembly experiment at the state level in the next legislative period."
Campaign on citizens' assemblies
In a campaign, the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of Mehr Demokratie is campaigning for citizens' assemblies. Support the campaign.
- Party survey of Mehr Demokratie on the state elections in NRW
- Online-Discussion: More citizen participation in NRW through citizens' assemblies?
- Enquete Commission recommends citizens' assemblies
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