Growing Support for Citizens' Assemblies—Among Citizens

Submitted by webmaster on Sun, 06-02-2022 - 11:32

'New' coalition formed; House even more fragmented
Immediately after the House of Representatives election in March last year, it was clear that forming a new government would be very difficult. In the early explorational phase, a photo with accidentally exposed notes on it indicated that one of the previous government's most persistent critic, Mr. Pieter Omtzigt (mentioned in the previous article) temporarily absent because of a burn-out  was suggested to be removed from the House by means of a 'position elsewhere', bringing political tensions and distrust to the boiling point. After a long-winding process of talks, that took a record-breaking number of 299 days, the new coalition was formed by exactly the same four parties as the previous government. As with the previous government, the coalition only has a majority in the House of Representaties, not in the Senate. Public confidence in this newly-formed government is low: only 27 percent of voters has confidence in it; 40 percent hasn't. The new government plans are to be financed by a considerable increase in borrowing, handing over the bill to future generations. In the meantime, low ECB interest rates are increasing the shortage of workers, are driving up the rate of inflation to levels that haven't been seen since the 1980s, and are leading to relentless increases of already record-breaking housing prices. Meanwhile, Mr. Omtzigt split off from his CDA party, but held on to his seat, becoming an independent House member. Another split-off has taken place in the 'Forum for Democracy' right-wing 'populist' party, and Mrs. Den Haan, who held the one seat for the 50-plus senior-citizens' party, left her party, holding on to her seat, becoming an independent House member as well. The House now contains sixteen parties, and three independent members. The coalition has only a two out of 150 seats majority, and many doubt it will last the full three years that are left. Personal threats expressed towards politicians are  a serious and growing problem as well. This has generally been attributed to social media, fake news, the covid-pandemic restrictions, and verbal misbehaviour by right-wing 'populist' parties — not to artistocratic nature of the election-based system and its policies.

Government-initiated citizens' assemblies?
Prime minister Mr. Mark Rutte, in an attempt to survive the political crisis, has promised a 'new political culture', but the plans to improve the political system are few in number, and also vague. At the local level, citizen participation in the form of the Right to Challenge will be encouraged; at the national level the (disappointing) parliamentary reform committee's report will be 'taken into consideration' ('processed'). This means that there may be room for advisory citizens' assemblies at the national level. On the other hand, the House majority for a climate assembly has not (yet) been turned into actual support by the new government: the assembly isn't mentoined in the coalition agreement document anywhere.

National citizens' assembly network formed
On the ground, organizations advocating citizens' assemblies in general — and climate assemblies in particular —  have joined forces. A national network has been formed: to promote CAs, exchange information with the government,  and share scientific knowledge and offer support to anyone who want to organize a CA. The network consists of Bureau Burgerberaad (climate/environment CAs ), G1000 (CAs promoter and organizer), More Democracy, NBPO spatial planning and the Transition Engine. As a matter of fact, More Democracy was an organization that originally focused mainly on the use of binding referendums and the election mayors (in the Netherlands, mayors are appointed), but now has adopted citizens' assemblies as well.

Participedia in Dutch, the global network and crowdsourcing platform for democratic innovation including sortition, has been translated into Dutch.

Research: majority of Dutch citizens support CAs
In November 2021 a report by the SCP social research center and Radboud University (city of Nijmegen) was published. The report concludes that a majority of the Dutch population supports advisory Citizens' Assemblies. A sample of the population was asked their opinion; if respondents were unfamiliar with the concept of a Citizens' Assembly, it was explained to them. A 54 percent majority of the sample supported national-level CAs; 66 percent supported local-level CAs. Many respondents indicated that important issues like housing, climate policy, medical care and education would be good topics for national-level CAs.

"Make use of citizens' panels for determining regional energy strategies"
The 800,000 members strong Dutch association of home owners VEH has voiced support for the use of citizens' panels to help shape the energy strategy that so-called Energy Regions have to develop in order to make the country's energy supply carbon-neutral. Its support for citizens' panels was expressed on both its website and in its monthly magazine: "A citizens' panel forms a good image of the population as a whole, which is an advantage".

G1000 has planned four CAs
The promoter and organizer of citizens' assemblies G1000 (site available English) has planned four CAs in 2022:
- on the future of healthcare in the province of Zeeland
- on local climate policy in the municipality of Rheden
- on making the quarter of Vliedberg fit-for-future
- on housing in the region of Zaanstreek-Waterland
Apart from the small climate assembly in Amsterdam, G1000 is currently the only entity in the Netherlands that actually succeeds in delivering sortition-action on the ground.

Sortition in the media
Quite a few articles on sortition have been published over the last ten months. Most articles focus on the proposed climate assembly  some reflect on the French climate assembly. Some opini0n leaders see an assembly on climate as a threat to the 'democratic' process. The right-wing website Wynia's Week published an article voicing distrust of these CAs, claiming they would primarily be used to legitimize the climate policies that are already in place. However, Elsevier Weekblad  politically roughly in the same corner  published the transcript of Van Reybrouck's pro-CAs Huizinga Lecture though. In his recent opinions, Van Reybrouck stresses that a climate assembly should be a yearly-recurring procedure.
The EU Conference on the Future of Europe has gotten very little attention until now, even though the city of Maastricht will host one of the deliberative sessions with 200 EU-citizens drawn by lot. The Financieele Dagblad (Financial Daily) did publish an article on it though. The Conference was also the subject of the Café Europa podcast, in which the hosts, journalist Annette van Soest and historian Mathieu Segers interviewed David Van Reybrouck. Segers expressed praise for Van Reybrouck's book Against Elections. CAs also got some attention in the Democracy Under Pressure podcast, where More Democracy's Mr. Niesco Dubbelboer was a guest.
Besides that, NPO Dutch public radio and television have paid some attention to CAs. In april 2021, Mrs. Eva Rovers, the main spokeswoman of the proposed climate assembly, was interviewed on the daily early-evening TV news program 1Vandaag. And recently Van Reybrouck was interviewed on the NPO Radio 1 Spraakmakers show on the Ostbelgien and Paris permanent sortition-based councils. Then there was the VPRO public broadcasting association with a video named 'The Netherlands a democracy? In The Hague [i.e. Dutch seat of government], those of higher education are in power'. An interesting video, without a word on sortition though.

Looking back on the past ten months, the Dutch citizens have become more aware that their political system has become dysfunctional. Also, there's some increase in the interest in citizens assemblies. Still there have been no pleas for giving citizens drawn by lot actual decision-making power. The only plea of that nature published in the Dutch language, was published abroad, by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard, in an interview with Hélène Landemore, with the headline, in quotation marks: 'Elections democratic? We've fooled ourselves into believing that'.