Background paper on the demand: Citizens' Assembly

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We are on the path of global warming, which was still described as a "worst-case scenario" in the last IPCC calculations. Global emissions continue to rise, and Germany, as the fourth richest country, contributes significantly to maintaining this deadly course.

We do not see any failures of individuals behind this, but an inappropriate power and decision-making structure.

We see that the current, parliamentary democracy has not been able to end or even contain the problem of growing environmental and climate destruction for decades.
The political and media discourse completely misses the scientific reality.

None of the established parties has a plan that includes the necessary actions for an immediate containment of the catastrophe. They are even pushing it further because they have been following the wrong economic policy principles for decades, based on old dogmas that have long been disproved.1 The result is ever-increasing economic growth, of unsustainable goods, which continues to destroy our livelihoods on a daily basis.

Thus, after these elections - no matter what the outcome - we cannot expect that the climate collapse will not be driven further. Furthermore, billions (!) of people will have to flee, will be displaced and famines will increase worldwide until we will also feel them here.

Our proposition

Our proposal is for a government-convened Citizens Assembly to hold an emergency meeting to prevent climate collapse and discuss, among other things, converting our food production to 100% renewable agriculture.

To the remedy:

We call for the implementation of a citizens' assembly in German climate policy: 100 to 160 people are selected by lottery to develop recommendations to the federal government on future climate policy in Germany, representative of the entire German population. There are various tried and tested procedures for this type of decision-making. The most common runs as follows:

A large number of invitations (approx. 20,000 for a nationwide citizens' assembly) are sent out by letter to people all over Germany. This can be done either via the postal register or the residents' register of the municipalities. Attention is paid to a balanced distribution of addresses, e.g. with regard to the different regions and federal states as well as the urban-rural ratio. In addition, people aged 16 should also be able to participate in the procedure (as is already the case with voting rights in Austria).

Persons who have received an invitation may respond and express their interest in participating in the Citizens' Assembly. Participation is voluntary. Approximately 100 to 160 people are then randomly selected from the pool of all interested parties. This is done in such a way that the resulting citizens' council is representative of the German population based on a number of criteria. These criteria usually include gender, age, level of education, place of residence, migration background and political views. This selection procedure is also described as stratified random sampling. Stratified random sampling ensures that the participants represent the diversity of society. In this way, people who have not been much involved in climate policy also have their say.

Unfortunately, there is still the problem that people who are not registered in Germany, for technical reasons, can not be involved in the selection procedure and thus in the process. Solutions should still be found for this. It is therefore all the more important that people affected by the climate crisis have their say and are heard in the meetings of the Citizens' Assembly.

In everyday life, many people may often lack the time and energy to deal intensively with complex issues. It is understandable that most of us do not leaf through scientific journals after work. For example, we cannot examine every political viewpoint on every topic for its scientific justification or its possible effects. A person's lifetime is simply not enough for that. Moreover, when it comes to questioning principles of our way of life, it is then a natural reaction not to address the issue. Citizens' assemblies counteract this problem: they enable people who do not hold political office to deal with an issue in a well-founded way and to form an opinion through expertise and exchange with others.

Citizens' assemblies in Canada, Australia, Ireland, England, Belgium, and France have shown that citizens are absolutely capable of dealing with complex issues and making appropriate recommendations for action - but the framework of such a council plays a crucial role.

The selection of experts is an important part of the organizational process. The success of the citizens' assembly depends on whether the randomly selected citizens have all the facts at their disposal so that they can form their own independent opinion.

There are different approaches to ensure this. It is common for the initiators of the citizens' assembly (e.g. the government) to commission another, external institution to organize the citizens' assembly.2 One of their tasks is to appoint the council of experts who will provide the citizens selected with the necessary information. This council should consist of people with expertise in different areas (e.g. climate, democracy, social and economic issues). The names of all accompanying experts and speakers as well as the names of their employers will be published online. The same applies to all material that is used. In addition, all sessions will also be filmed so that researchers, journalists and civilians can follow them. In addition, participants have the opportunity to invite further experts themselves. The overall aim is to ensure that the process is as transparent, independent and fair as possible.

In general, it is important that the entire process is not blindly entrusted to one organization or the government. Rather, the process must be publicly discussed and the potential shortcomings pointed out by the community. So what matters here - just as in our representative democracy - is functioning control and discourse with the rest of society. For this to work, detailed reporting and transparency are of great importance - but the former is unfortunately lacking so far.

Why should a citizens' assembly be better?

But why should such a citizens' assembly produce better results? Because we believe that it does not have some of the shortcomings of our current parliamentary democracy: Lobbying plays a major role in the fight against climate catastrophe. Large corporations earn money through emissions and can use this money to unleash many lobbyists on politicians to prevent a more ambitious climate policy.

n a citizens' assembly, however, there are people who have only been selected for this one lottery procedure. They offer much less of a target for lobbying attempts. Moreover, our electoral democracy is characterized by a certain short-termism in thinking. For tactical reasons, those in power want to implement the optimum until the next election, but not beyond. Measures that are good for the long term but cause difficulties in the short term are very difficult to implement in such a system. In contrast, elected citizens do not have the possibility of re-election and can therefore plan independently far into the future and thus support the parliaments. Whereas in party politics different population groups are often played off against each other, a citizens' assembly brings them all together at one table and thus creates mutual understanding. People understand the problems of other population groups with whom they would otherwise probably never come into contact. Independent facilitation then creates a safe framework for working together rather than against each other to find solutions to these problems.

In West Germany, citizens were already drawn by lot to draw up expert reports at the local level in the 1970s under the term "planning cell". In 2003, the developer of the concept received the Federal Cross of Merit from the then Federal President Rau.3. In recent years, the topic has picked up steam again. In 2019, a Citizens' Assembly report on improving our democracy was presented to German President Wolfgang Schäuble.4,5 In 2021, there was a first citizens' assembly on climate policy, in whose report former Federal President Horst Köhler speaks out.6 Some researchers even call for the establishment of a "consultative body" as a fourth power in the state, which would regularly prepare expert opinions for policymakers on the basis of the above-mentioned principles.7

Where are the reactions from top politicians?

But where are the reactions of the top politicians? Why don't any of the candidates for chancellor talk about the results of the so prominently supported participation processes? Why are the results not discussed and more councils convened?

The lack of reactions so far and the progress of the climate crisis show that there is an urgent need for a binding citizens' assembly convened by politicians to combat the climate crisis, an emergency meeting of society to combat the already acute and approaching catastrophes!

Wir fordern ein öffentliches Gespräch mit Olaf Scholz, Armin Laschet und Annalena Baerbock!
We demand a promise to convene such a citizens' assembly at the beginning of the next legislative period.

1See, with hundreds of posts on this topic.

2 In recent years, often by the Nexus Institute or Ifok.