Agora Brussels wins a seat in Brussels Regional Parliament

Gabriel Popham reports in openDemocracy:

Agora Brussels [website, Facebook page] started less than two years ago as a grassroots citizens’ movement to reboot democracy in the Belgian capital. Earlier this year Agora ran for the regional elections and managed to gain one seat at the Brussels Regional Parliament.

Agora is a unique political party, in that it doesn’t have any political programme to speak of: its only agenda is to organise a permanent citizens’ assembly, promote its institutionalisation for the region of Brussels, and defend its decisions in Parliament.

Pepijn Kennis, MP for Agora, admits that Agora’s strategy of running in elections might seem counterintuitive at first. “As a movement, we’re very much inspired by the book Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck,” he tells me from his office in the Regional Parliament. Agora shares Van Reybrouck’s view that elections nowadays tend to prioritise short-term thinking at the expense of genuine democracy.

In part, Agora’s decision to form an independent electoral list was motivated by the same concern with electoral calculation. Agora had initially contacted all the different political parties that were going to stand for elections, asking them whether they would be favourable to an institutionalised citizens’ assembly with legislative power. But the response given by the parties convinced the activists in Agora to go it alone.

“In these conversations,” Kennis tells me, “we realised there were different degrees to which parties were open to this, but no party ever wanted to give over the power straight out of their hands. They always wanted the final control, either by agenda-setting or by determining what kind of decision-making power the assembly had and limiting it to consultative power.”

This question of power is a fundamental issue for citizens’ assemblies: one of the main concerns with these projects is how to make sure that there is some in-built mechanism to stop it from becoming just another form of consultation, a ‘talking shop’ with bells and whistles and a fancy name. For Agora, having an elected representative guarantees at the very least that the Parliament has to pay attention to what is decided during the assembly. And further down the line, Agora wants to see it become a permanent feature of local politics in the Brussels region.

Assemblies make it possible to imagine an alternative to the relentless polarisation in politics today, and Kennis has no doubts about their role for how we rethink our democracies: “In many recent elections in Europe, votes have been more extreme, to the right or to the left, and I interpret that as a frustration, people fed up with their governments not being able to deliver what they need, and so I think it’s key to bring people into that debate, and not just protesting against the establishment because they don’t like what is being done.”

One Response

  1. Great, sounds pretty much exactly like what we are planning for Vienna elections next year. Who’s the master mind behind the exact plan?

    Liked by 2 people

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