Welcome to the Citizens’ Assembly of Switzerland

about the climate and environmental crisis

What is a citizens’ assembly?

Citizen’s assemblies are part of participatory democracy, while constituting its most advanced form, that of deliberative democracy. It is a process by which citizens make political decisions on issues of public interest, such as climate and social justice. Its members, sitting in this temporary decision-making body alongside the Parliament and the Government, are drawn at random to form a representative panel of society. During this mission, participants learn in depth about the issues to be addressed, listen to experts and various stakeholders. They then deliberate collectively to finally issue recommendations and take (legally binding) decisions that will then be implemented by the authorities. 

Why do we need a citizens’ assembly? 

The failure of our current political system

Our government is failing to respond to the growing climate change crisis. Political participation through citizens’ assemblies adds, for the duration of the mandate, a complementary decision-making body to Parliament. Such an assembly sets up a breath in a parliamentary mechanism forced by the rhythm of the electoral cycle to give priority to short-term decision-making. It also allows a better representation of the interests of every groups of the population, within the arenas of power.

The climate emergency requires responses based on a long-term vision and that take into consideration the situation of the entire population.

A citizens' assembly is representative

Unlike existing power bodies, a citizens’ assembly is constituted through a selection process that makes it representative of society. Participants are randomly selected from the general population, according to demographic criteria such as gender, age, ethnocultural heritage, level of education, place of residence, etc. The participants are chosen at random from the entire population. 

Why is the representativeness of a power body important? When certain categories of the population are over-represented, decision-making is mechanically oriented towards defending their own interests at the expense of those of the rest of the community.

This is simply because if those in power do not resemble the governed, it is difficult for them to “think, feel, reason and act like the rest of society” (Van Reybrouck, 2014, p.101).

The decision-making is long-term orientated

Participants in the citizens’ assembly are not chosen to represent political parties and are not pressed for re-election. Freed from these constraints, the members of the (mini-public) assembly build their own point of view by taking into account their future, that of their family and their loved ones. 

A citizens' assembly is independent

The process by which citizens’ assemblies function is constructed in such a way that external actors have difficulty influencing the decision-making process. Assembly participants are thus able to make decisions based solely on their own informed views, their values and their idea of public policy for the common good.

Thus, the citizens’ assembly must be set up by the government but is not dependent on it.

Everyone's voice is heard

During the deliberation phase, the members of the assembly meet around round tables and discuss their positions together. Facilitators ensure that everyone can speak and that no one dominates the conversation. This is to ensure that all points of view are heard. In addition, suggestions from the audience can also be included in the discussions.

How does it work? 

For more detailed information click here.

Citizens’ Assembly of Ireland

Frequently Asked Questions

There is already a semi-direct democracy in switzerland. why do we need a citizens assembly?

It is true that our political system is among the most democratic in the world. Nevertheless, a certain number of dysfunctions can be noted.

Firstly, the political participation and representation of the population. First of all, the political participation rate hardly passes the 40% mark and it is often the same categories of people who participate. Secondly, due to the elective nature of our system of representative democracy, some social groups are less represented in parliament than others. Thus, the interests of the various categories of the population are unequally defended. On the other hand, a citizens’ assembly whose members are drawn by lot from among the population is representative of the whole society and of all the interests involved.

Second, decisions made by the population in votes, initiatives and referenda are often influenced by the communication of competing parties. This influence is made possible by the fact that few citizens are fully informed about the issues to be voted on. This is why direct participation in the political decision-making process, including a learning and deliberation phase, is crucial for making an informed opinion on the objects in question.

Why do you not try to push your request through an inititive as the common way?
History has shown, that initiatives take up to 10 years until a decision is made because of different factors such as lacking will to take hard decisions or referendums. We don’t have the time to wait 10 years until we really tackle climate change. We need to act now.