"We make the silent citizens speak"
In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, a forum with randomly selected citizens is to be held in advance for more legislative projects than before. This was decided by the state government's Council of Ministers on 22 November 2022. This implements a coalition agreement between the Greens and the CDU that was adopted in May 2021.
In the case of important legislative projects of the state government, a citizens' forum is to discuss the first draft bill in future. The state government will then deal with the proposals developed in the citizens' forum. This will take place at the same time as the hearing of associations, which has been practised for a long time. Only then will the state government decide with which draft it will enter the parliamentary procedure. It was decided to adequately finance two citizens' forums per year for outstanding, politically relevant bills.
"Politicians don't always know everything better"
"We make the silent citizens speak," said Minister President Winfried Kretschmann at the presentation when the resolution was introduced. "We do this because we are convinced that we politicians do not always know everything better. The impulses and ideas we receive from citizenship can help us to achieve better political results in the end. The politics of being heard is thus also a politics of being at home, bringing people into the community by making them active players."
"Public debates are dominated by a few but very loud voices. We are turning this around from the head to the feet," Barbara Bosch, State Councillor for Civil Society and Civic Participation, said in response. "We give the silent majority a voice. The sortition system does that. It is now used all over the world. Numerous research studies have proven how well it works. Baden-Württemberg is leading the way. The state parliament has passed a special law on this. We are now applying this when it comes to forming opinions within the state government."
Don't just listen to the loud ones
Modern societies are strongly determined by lobby groups and citizens' initiatives that use campaigns to express their opinions. But one should not only listen to "the loud ones". By selecting random citizens, who should come from all parts of society, it could be possible to discuss new arguments in the case of striking legislative projects. Because: "Random citizens don't have an iron in the fire".
With the citizens' forums, the country is changing its strategy. In the past, the "policy of being heard" was about getting the opinion of minorities. Now it is about "making the silent majority heard". People would be selected by lottery, and strict attention would be paid to differences in age, gender and origin. There are to be two citizens' forums per year. These would then be on a par with the consultation of associations following a draft law.
"We are closing a gap"
In the case of draft legislation, associations would be involved as a matter of course. "With the citizens' forums on important bills, we are now strengthening the voice of non-organised citizens and thus closing a gap," said the State Counsellor. For all other draft laws, citizens could continue to participate via the state's participation portal.
Experience shows that the citizens involved know that it is first and foremost a matter of being heard and that not every vote is reflected in the law. After all, we have a representative democracy in which the parliaments decide in the end.
Citizens' forums in Baden-Württemberg
In Baden-Württemberg, several state-wide citizens' forums had already taken place in recent years. They dealt with the retirement pensions of state parliamentarians and the COVID-19 pandemic. A cross-border citizens' forum with the French region of Grand Est dealt with the strengthening of togetherness after the COVID-19 pandemic. A citizens' forum on the topic of a "crisis-proof society" is currently underway.