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Citizen participation since 2019

The Agora citizen movement ran in the Brussels regional elections in 2019 with the aim ofinstitutionalizing a Citizens' Assembly drawn by lot which would have legislative power. Since the 2019 victory and the election of a deputy, Agora has organized 4 Assemblies to bring nearly 220 citizen proposals to the Brussels regional Parliament as faithfully as possible.

Behind this objective, let us recall Agora's raison d'être: the transformation of our current representative political system into an inclusive and equitable dialogue. How can we achieve this participatory democracy representative of the diversity of the population? To answer this question, we must first return to the heart of the subject.

Are the people of Brussels still experiencing democratic shortcomings?

Yes, this seems unfortunately obvious. Poll after poll, distrust for representative democracy has to lead from the wing: more than 70% of Brussels residents have the feeling of not having a say in political decisions!

Would participation be experienced as a solution? More than 55% of Brussels residents want democratic alternatives where decisions are not solely in the hands of elected officials and traditional political parties. More than half of Brussels residents say they are ready to get involved in the management of their region!

What results can we draw from citizen participation since 2019?

If there are still no citizen assemblies with legislative power, numerous initiatives have emerged in Belgium over the last 4 years:

We have only included the most important devices. But there are also numerous initiatives at the municipal level, as shown by citizen participation in Ghent or at Verviers. And abroad, we are also spoiled for choice, notably with the drawing of lots for citizens' assemblies in Ireland since 2013 and Paris since 2019. In 2021 the European Union organized the Conference on the Future of Europe with 800 participants drawn at random in 27 countries.

In terms of quantity, we are well served! But what about quality?

Everyone can get a fairly complete idea via the study (ULB-VUB) of citizen participation as well as via the vision note of the new Brussels Participation Service. General observation for Belgium, with the exception of the Brussels Citizens' Assemblies of Agora, all the aforementioned processes are consultative. In other words, the only guarantee of following up on citizen recommendations is, one day, a more or less reasoned response from elected officials.

All of these initiatives have sought to be representative of the diversity of the population. They showed that ordinary citizens are willing and able to make constructive and relevant proposals on complex and serious subjects: health, housing, education, energy, biodiversity, climate, role of citizens in times of crisis. crisis, employment and work, …

For the participants, this form of citizenship educationthrough practice has certainly contributed to reducing the gap between citizens and elected officials .es. These processes have also all proven the contribution of quality deliberation by allowing citizens to seek the general interest in a less ideological and divisive way than they do. , most often, parties.

But if we look closely, problems appear. Let's review the most glaring:

What political follow-up to citizen recommendations?

The most important problem remains that the inflation of citizen consultation processes does not or rarely results in the implementation of the recommendations. Of course, some processes are recent and it is difficult to evaluate them, but for those where we have the necessary perspective, the results are disappointing and sometimes even challenging.

Thus, the political monitoring of the Brussels deliberative commissions seems partial and biased: the energy put in by elected officials to follow up on the recommendations depended largely on interest that each recommendation arouses in the party of the elected official. Citizen proposals can therefore serve as a “democratic guarantee” for decisions already taken within the majority. For example, citizens dissatisfied with the implementation of the “Good Move” plan have sometimes been confronted with the argument: “a citizen panel recommended it!”

Another pitfall: the time this follow-up takes. The implementation report on the measures taken following the first citizens' assembly of the German-speaking community took two years. Under these conditions, it is hardly surprising that these processes even discourage the citizens behind the recommendations.

Conclusion: the boom in citizen participation without legislative impact discourages citizens. If the assemblies remain consultative, it is likely that the population will end up saying that they are useless.

The choice of subjects

If we want citizen assemblies to be spaces for dealing with things that are difficult to express through parties, the choice of subjects must be made independently. However, in the new citizen institutions, only the Permanent Citizen Dialogue in the German-speaking community allows a Citizen Council to choose which subject should be treated, and how to formulate it. In the deliberative commissions, subjects emerge through petitions, which seems relevant to us, but they are then prioritized and reformulated by elected officials. Finally, the Climate Assembly, as its name suggests, is confined to climate issues. A central theme of our time, yes, but it seems to us that a new institution must be able to take on any subject.

The specific case of deliberative commissions

The deliberative commissions are the only ones to be made up of a quarter of elected officials. A particularity which has the merit of introducing the political world to the benefits of deliberative democracy. It therefore particularly stimulates meetings between citizens and elected officials. Unfortunately, as the evaluation of its support committee highlights, it is very difficult to put elected officials (experts in political negotiation) on an equal footing with people who are new to this type of exercise.

Despite the good will of certain elected officials, a balance of power too much in their favor most often prevents this type of system from allowing all the qualities of citizen assemblies to be expressed . This is why Agora wants to maintain exchanges with elected officials, but giving them a strictly consultative role.

Here is a summary table of the processes intended to be permanent:


Permanent Citizen Dialogue

Brussels Citizens' Assembly

Deliberative Commission

Climate assembly

Deliberative Commission

Power Level

German-speaking community

Brussels region

Brussels region

Brussels region

Walloon region

Subject chosen by…

Citizen Council

Former participants

Petition & elected officials


Petition & elected officials


without elected representative

without elected representative

with elected officials

without elected representative

with elected officials







And Agora's work in parliament?

Even if Agora's political monitoring is as faithful as possible, it is obvious that compared to 88 other elected officials in the Brussels parliament, a single elected official, identified as being part of the opposition, has only limited impact. The results of Pepijn Kennis's hundreds of parliamentary interventions are therefore mixed: rare proposals were accepted, others amended, many were considered, but often because this resonated with the political line of the majority in place.

However, another way of representing citizens is now lingering in the minds of elected officials. According to a CRISP study from March 2022, only 13% of the 91 French-speaking elected officials surveyed remain against any participatory processes, 62% are in favor of consultations and nearly 25% are in favor of assemblies that would have real power. Giving some power to citizens is therefore making progress, but there is still a long way to go.

Agora.Brussels draws lessons from Brussels Citizens' Assemblies drawn randomly and continue the experimentation to discover and share the full potential of this democratic innovation. Our work ? It means continuing to force elected officials to take each citizen proposal into consideration. It means denouncing from within all forms of participation washing which lead to increased distrust among citizens. It means encouraging the emergence of citizen participation independent of elected officials and submitting the texts that would allow it.

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