The traffic light coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP wants to improve political decision-making at the federal level with randomly selected citizens' assemblies. "We will set up and organise citizens' assemblies on specific issues through the Bundestag. In doing so, we will pay attention to equal participation. Referral of the results to the Bundestag will be ensured," reads the coalition agreement presented on 24 November 2021.
Thus it seems certain that the Bundestag will create a specific legal framework for the implementation of nationwide citizens' assemblies. After several citizens' assemblies organised by civil society, the organisation of nationwide assemblies will thus also pass to the Bundestag. In addition, citizens' assemblies will in future also be publicly financed and not, as in the past, financed by foundation funds.
Civil society-organised citizens' assemblies since 2019
Since 2019, there had been civil society-organised citizens' assemblies on the topics of democracy, Germany's role in the world, climate, and education and learning. Currently, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is conducting a Citizens' Assembly on citizen participation in research policy. And for January, the Federal Foreign Office has announced a "National Citizens' Forum on the Future of Europe". Even before a regulation by law or in the rules of procedure of the Bundestag, citizens' assemblies are thus starting from official sources.
The Citizens' Assembly on "Germany's Role in the World" was particularly important for the breakthrough in the matter of democracy by sortition. Mehr Demokratie and Es Geht LOS had organised this at the request of the Bundestag's Council of Elders and conducted it online in January and February 2021. On 19 March, the then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäube accepted the 32 recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on behalf of the entire parliament.
Citizens' Assembly as a test run
In addition to dealing with the content of the topic, the Citizens' Assembly also served to "explore whether such a new set of instruments is suitable for supporting parliamentary work, and to develop a format suitable for Germany's conditions at the federal level", said Schäuble after the decision of the Council of Elders.
The Bundestag administration had closely followed the Citizens' Assembly on German Foreign Policy. Staff members of the administration were present in all ten online sessions as silent observers. In an evaluation report formulated on this basis, the parliamentary administration had determined that, in its view, the Citizens' Assembly instrument also allows issues of federal policy importance to be discussed with citizens in a discursive format and to develop proposals for solutions.
Citizens' Assemblies create a common space for people
In his last speech as President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble called on the Bundestag to act on the Citizens' Assembly. "This Bundestag would be well advised to take another close look at the advantages, but also the limitations, of this kind of citizen participation - especially since citizens' assemblies create a space where different people come together, get to know each other and need to exchange ideas. Togetherness. We have enough places of isolation," says Schäuble.
In her inaugural speech, her successor Bärbel Bas referred to this: "Those who listen with benefit, who understand what is at stake here in this House, will also seek dialogue. The exchange with us, the elected representatives. Those who realise that we seriously want this exchange will engage with us. They will want to think along with us and argue with us about political decisions. And they will not immediately start shouting, opposing or putting others down.
Citizens' assemblies enable participation
That is what we need: The invitation to as many people as possible to participate. We have new forms of participation for this: the citizens' assemblies are a format that enables participation. This is how I would like the coming legislative period in the German Bundestag to be: open and lively."