Conclusions on Citizens’ Assemblies

This is an extract from Tony Czarnecki’s book: ‘Democracy for a Human Federation’

Although Citizens’ Assemblies are not a silver bullet solution, they could help correct some faults in the current democratic system. One of the main reasons why sortition has not been adapted more often in politics is that there is still not enough evidence how it could improve the current democratic process and of course the unwillingness of political elites to be put under much closer scrutiny.

The final conclusions that I would like to make are not exhaustive, nor cast in stone, since there is still considerably low level of evidence supporting each side of the argument. Citizens’ Assemblies can help by practically eliminating the class-driven policy and decision-making system. We should also remember that both for the developed as well as for the developing democracies, a Citizens’ Assembly can be used effectively to weed out, or at least minimize, corruption and bring about more cohesive consensual politics.

Citizens’ Assemblies bring to democracy two very important elements: neutrality and diversity. Most electoral systems in representative democracy still split societies into political classes. A Citizens’ Assembly would normally limit the period served in a public office to one term, thus continually bringing people with fresh ideas and different perspectives on life and societal cohesion. As can be seen, the major advantage of sortition is that it is quite literally the rule by the people. It is completely non-discriminatory, less corruptible, providing representative, diverse ruling lot.

Advocates of Citizens’ Assemblies insist that a legislature by lot would perform significantly better than an elected chamber in terms of deliberation and impartiality. Without party discipline or the need to pander to any constituency, members would be free to listen to each other, learn and change their minds. Evidence gathered with so called mini-publics, shows that, under the right conditions, citizens can engage in a high-quality impartial deliberation.

Of course, Citizens’ Assemblies have their own problem, as do electoral systems. But for me such a system provides a fairly simple and convincing argument, with the caveats about some imperfection of the Citizens’ Chambers or Citizens’ Assemblies already mentioned. It is, as far as possible, a more impartial way to agree decisions and establish new policies than solely through the elected representatives.

However, to have a real and continuous impact on politics Citizens’ Assemblies should not be called just every few years to debate most important issues. Citizens Assemblies to impact politics, must be a permanent, add-on feature of the new democracy, which would to a certain degree be a substitute for a direct democracy, giving citizens real influence in political decision-making. In such case, it should be part of the Parliament, rather than being outside the centre of the political power.

However, even if some agree with the above argument, they may suggest not to hurry and first test the concept by setting up a permanent Citizens’ Assembly as an independent auxiliary political body, but which would stay outside national or regional parliaments. In the meantime, constitutional changes would be prepared to convert it into a Citizens’ Chamber as the upper House of the Parliament.

Those who would propose that perhaps forget that we now live at the time when change happens at almost an exponential rather than linear pace. What once took a decade, now takes less than a year. Neither Europe, nor the world have decades to tinker with new democratic ideas. We have just years, so it is simply too late to experiment. We must take certain risks (minor in my view) and create a Citizens’ Chamber within the EF Constitution, rather than call on ad hoc Citizens’ assemblies.

However, Citizens’ Assemblies should be used in the already mentioned Future of Europe Conference. That is why, I make some concrete proposals for selecting members of a Citizens’ Assembly and a Citizens’ Chamber in Part 5 Chapter 2.