Canada was a pioneer in the field of civic participation, the idea was adopted by Ireland a few years ago, and now Germany is pursuing it. This is entirely in the attitude of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who sees it as an opportunity to strengthen democracy. Two years ago, when Irish President Michael Higgins was in Berlin, Steinmeier praised the “Irish courage” that Germany might inspire. Let me now report on how things are going on for the federal president’s return visit to Ireland – in an interview with Higgins and participants in the Irish Citizens Council. According to the federal president’s office, Steinmeier is interested in how they found solutions that eliminate all aspects.
Selection is by lot
One of the aims of these civic bodies is to recruit people who are not politically active and therefore unwilling to undertake such a mission. Therefore, participants are randomly selected. The experts will then provide the necessary information to the group. The moderators make sure that everyone has their own opinion and that there is an outcome in the end. In Ireland, for example, it paved the way for solving one of the most sensitive domestic problems. The majority of Citizens Council wanted the right to abortion, which was confirmed by a referendum in 2018.
Reservations from Politicians in Germany
In Germany, this involvement of the general public in the political decision-making process was hitherto known primarily at the local level. Oscar Gabriel, a sociologist and political professor who specializes in political participation, has reservations among many politicians. Their view of such participatory processes is “It will destroy our capabilities!” Guided by the thought. It is an opportunity to involve citizens and thereby mobilize additional resources. Gabriel is convinced that this opens up new perspectives for decision makers and brings neglected interests into action.
2020: Bundestag solves public participation
The Bundestag, which initiated a citizen initiative, has now twice appointed citizens’ councils to form an opinion. “What should be our role in the world?” In addition to the questions “How do we manage to achieve the climate goals from the Paris Agreement?” One thing was clear from the beginning: Citizens are an active part of the process of building political will, making recommendations. However, in the end, the decision is made by the MPs who are elected as the representatives of the citizens.
Boundary from “direct democracy”
That is the great difference between direct democracy and opinion formation. Citizens’ referendums can be used to put issues on the agenda and to make decisions in Parliament.
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