Initiated in 2019 in the Brussels Capital Region, the Deliberative Committees were considered a world first. Incorporated in a permanent way into the functioning of parliament, they allow elected officials and citizens drawn by lot to co-construct proposals. The population has the power, by way of petition, to put on the agenda the subjects dealt with by these committees. This is therefore a hybrid form of citizen participation, with the intention of giving citizens’ recommendations more weight in public decisions.
Drawing lessons from this rich experience in Brussels, Dreamocracy is very happy to support the launch of the Deliberative Committees in the Parliament of Wallonia. We are pleased to be designing and facilitating the first committe which will take place at the end of 2023 and will deal with the following question: “How to involve Walloons and Walloons in decision-making, in a deliberative and permanent way, drawing inspiration in particular from the dialogue permanent citizen existing in the German-speaking Community”.
Faced with the widening gap between elected officials and citizens, the lack of legitimacy of elected officials and abstention that continues to grow election after election, institutions are innovating and adopting new mechanisms that better integrate citizens into politics. This is the case of the Parliament of Wallonia which has just set up its very first deliberative Commission (and for which we were mandated!).
What is a deliberative committee?
It is a committee of elected representatives on the one hand, and citizens drawn by lot on the other, with the aim of deliberating on a particular subject and producing recommendations that will be submitted to Parliament. These special committees are somehow incorporated into the ordinary activity of parliaments, alongside the traditional parliamentary committees. Their implementation is voted by the MPs and their functioning is written in the rules of procedure of the assemblies that practice them. While their recommendations remain consultative, such institutionalization makes it possible to lay down a standard procedure to monitor how the proposals have been followed up.
How is a deliberative committee started?
Committees can be triggered by parliamentarians or citizens, through a petition. The relatively low threshold of signatures required gives the population some agenda-setting power.
In Wallonia, a citizens’ initiative indeed requiresn 2,000 valid signatures for a committee to be considered. Other criteria ensure that the proposal is admissible by the Bureau of the Parliament (notably that the topic falls within the competence of the Walloon Region, that it is phrased in the form of an open proposal, etc.). If these conditions are met, the Bureau of the Parliament may vote to set up a deliberative committee.
What is the first deliberative committee of the Parliament of Wallonia?
The first petition that collected over 2,000 signatures was promoted by the Cap Démocratie movement, in April 2023. It is a civil society group that campaigns for the establishment of a permanent citizens’ assembly in Wallonia. On 14 June 2023, the establishment of the first Deliberative Committee was adopted unanimously by the Parliament of Wallonia. The question that the Deliberative committee will work on is:
“How can we involve Walloons in decision-making, in a deliberative and permanent way, drawing inspiration from the permanent citizen dialogue that exists in the German-speaking Community, which proceeds by lot?”
How Dreamocracy is supporting the first-ever deliberative committee of Wallonia
Dreamocracy has been mandated by the Parliament of Wallonia to oversee and support the entire process. To this effect, we work closely with an advisory group composed of 4 experts of participatory democracy selected by the Parliament: Prof. Min Reuchamps (Catholic University of Louvain), Prof. Geoffrey Grandjean (University of Liège), Dr. Céline Parotte (University of Liège), as well as Benoît Derenne, director of the Foundation for future generations.
Who are the participants of Wallonia’s first deliberative committee?
The 30 citizens were selected according to the procedure described in the Parliament’s rules of procedure. First, a sample of 3,000 people was selected by lot and invited to indicate whether they’d be interested to join. Then, among the people indicating their willingness to participate, a second lot was drawn in order to obtain a group of 30 people (as well as a second group of 30 alternates). The second draw is based on 3 criteria: age, gender and level of education.
The 30 citizens selected sit alongside 10 Walloon MPs who belong to the committee responsible for the citizens’ proposal. In our case, this is the General Affairs Committee. Each citizen receives a fee for each day of participation, and transportation costs are covered.
How does the deliberative committee work?
During this deliberative committee, citizens and deputies will meet 6 times in total, approximately once a month between October 2023 and February 2024. In order to ensure that everyone can attend, the meetings are held on Sundays.
This is the sequence of dates and topics covered throughout the 6 sessions:
- October 15, 2023: practical information and knowledge session
- November 12, 2023: getting to grips with the topic
- December 3, 2023: identifying challenges and opportunities
- January 14, 2024: generating and prioritizing ideas
- February 4, 2024: amending and finalizing the recommendations
- February 25, 2024: final vote
The aim is to arrive at the end of the process with a series of recommendations. During the final session, the committee’s recommendations will be voted on one by one, through a double vote: a secret and consultative vote for the citizens, and a public vote by the MPs.
What happens once the Deliberative committee has published its recommendations?
The work and recommendations will be described in a report drawn up by a group comprising two MPs and two citizens. The preparation of the report will be facilitated by the services of the Parliamentary Clerk’s Office, present at each session. The submission of the report will mark the end of the deliberative commission’s mission.
What will happen to the report? It will be sent directly to the standing committee whose members took part in the work. Within six months of the submission of the deliberative commission’s report, the permanent commission will issue a reasoned report on the action taken on the recommendations. The Standing Committee’s report will then be examined at a plenary session of Parliament.
The date of this plenary session will be communicated to the citizens who participated in the deliberative commission meetings. It is important to note that neither the relevant standing committee nor the plenary session is obliged to consider recommendations made by a deliberative committee.
We look forward to putting all our expertise at the service of this process in which we strongly believe, as it has the potential to increase the validity of the proposals, by combining different types of expertise, and ensuring that those responsible for their implementation were part of the co-creation process leading up to them. Also, we believe that it will help further increase the conditions for greater collective creativity within and outside parliament, on a key topic: the region’s democratic future!
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