A new permanent procedure engages randomly selected citizens in policy-making alongside parliamentarians, to democratise reforms and increase public support for decisions.
A MIX OF POLITICIANS AND CITIZENS
The public generally disapproves of policies that do not involve citizens in the legislative process. To counteract this, in December 2019, the Parliament in Brussels amended their internal regulations to create 'Deliberative Committees'. Members of Parliament compose a quarter of the committee, while three quarters are randomly-selected citizens.
ESTABLISHING A PERMANENT SOLUTION
This initiative follows the innovative experiences of the German-speaking community of Belgium, known as Ostbelgien, where Deliberative Committees were used for the first time, as well as the famous Irish Constitutional Convention, which launched the debate on important constitutional matters. This project establishes permanent forums for direct citizen involvement as a progression from previous deliberative processes, which were one-off experiments. The Deliberative Committees are embedded in Parliamentary Procedures, ensuring their sustainability, and continuing to provide parliamentarians with direct citizens’ input. Deliberative Committees mean decisions will generally be more widely supported by the public, because of the way they were formulated. For example, environmental reforms will not only be perceived as punitive but as widely consensual, improving their legitimacy and sustainability.
PARTICIPATION IN A COSMOPOLITAN CONTEXT
Firstly, citizens will be part of the agenda-setting, with 1000 citizens having the opportunity to bring a topic to the Committees. Secondly, the Committees will be composed of 45 randomly selected citizens and 15 parliamentarians, who will debate a wide range of topics and issues, and formulate official recommendations to parliament. Thirdly, the citizens will be invited to discuss the issue six months after the end of the recommendation phase. The innovative nature of the initiative lies in the fact that Deliberative Committees have now been directly implemented into the legal framework of the Brussels region. This establishes the region as a pioneer in terms of citizen involvement in Europe, and the world. Simultaneously, the region pioneers different inclusion mechanisms for vulnerable people. Incentives, such as remuneration, preparatory sessions, daycare for children, and multilingual facilitation, as well as an invitation in seven languages, increase the diversity of the participating citizens. After all, Brussels is the second most diverse city in the world after Washington DC. With its relatively large population of over 1.2 million inhabitants, the lessons learned through the Deliberative Committees will help understand their potential on a wider scale.
Citizenship should not be limited to casting a ballot during election time. With the deliberative committees in Brussels, we go back to the roots of democracy by giving citizens a voice between the elections.