Hugh Pope on the Belgian Citizens’ Dialogue

Hugh Pope has a piece in the The New European about the permanent allotted body in the German speaking community in Belgium.

If we are trying to fix our “broken politics”, is the solution really just another set of politicians? If the electoral system is at fault, might the process of government work better if it were run by a group of randomly selected citizens?

Liesa Scholzen is a politician whose constituents are the 70,000 German speakers on Belgium’s eastern border. People with an interest in new political systems are paying close attention to Scholzen’s hilltop parliament in Eupen, Ostbelgien. That’s because in 2021, as part of its Citizens’ Dialogue initiative, Ostbelgien inaugurated the world’s first official, permanent legislative body chosen not by votes, but by lottery.

“The Citizens’ Dialogue” […] is led by a standing council of citizens, drawn by lot. The 24-member council serves for 18 months, and they choose the topics which are then debated by separate Citizens’ Assemblies. These assemblies have 25-50 members, also chosen by lot, who make their recommendations following two to three days of deliberation. Members meet in the evening or at weekends, and receive expenses plus €50 to €95 (£44-£84) per session. All participants are chosen from the German-speaking community.

An interesting paragraph discusses the matter of the rate of acceptance:

[O]nly 5% to 10% of invitations to attend Citizens’ Assemblies are initially accepted. This is because people have no knowledge of them, no time to spare or just think the invitation letters are a hoax. Organisers usually ensure that those who do volunteer are representative through “stratification”, a second layer of random selection that balances gender, language, age, education and other criteria. But [activist Juliane] Baruck from Es geht LOS [a German organization promoting sortition] goes out knocking on the doors of those who don’t respond. “We trust the lottery to get a truly representative sample, so we keep trying,” she said. “I don’t try to convince those chosen. I ask them: ‘What do you need to join in?’ Already, we’ve got the positive response rate up to 22%.”

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