Bundestag sets up Citizens' Assembly on "Nutrition in Transition"

The Reichstag Building

The Reichstag Building (DBT / Axel Hartmann)

On Wednesday, 10 May 2023, the Members of the German Bundestag decided to establish a Citizens' Assembly on the topic of "Nutrition in Transition: between a private matter and governmental responsibilities". A joint motion by the SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, FDP and Die Linke (20/6709) was approved in a roll call vote by 402 MPs. 251 parliamentarians voted against the proposal, 12 abstained. On the other hand, a motion of the AfD parliamentary group entitled  «Dare more democracy - Real citizen participation through nationwide referendums instead of deliberative Citizens' assemblies» (20/6708) did not find a majority. The proposal was rejected by 592 votes against and 69 votes in favour.

Joint motion

Among other things, the Citizens' Assembly is to discuss issues of food labelling and food waste. According to the paper, the body will focus on the changes in nutrition that are already taking place in everyday life and bring the citizens' perspective into the political debate. 160 citizens drawn by lot are expected to discuss questions on environmental and climate compatibility, husbandry conditions of farm animals, production of products, transparent food labelling and food waste. There will also be questions about what role the state should play in terms of educational offers in schools with regard to nutritional issues, whether it should impose tax regulations or intervene in pricing.

The Citizens’ Assemly will take place from September 2023 until January 2024.

Participants in the Citizens' Assembly will be selected at random, and anyone who is at least 16 years old and a resident of Germany is invited to attend. In the composition, care is to be taken to ensure that citizens participate fairly according to age, gender, regional origin, community size and educational background. "In addition, the proportion of vegetarian or vegan eaters in the population should be reflected in the Citizens' assembly," the motion says. Participants will receive an expense allowance of 100 euros per meeting day in presence and 50 euros per meeting in digital form.

Facilitating with neutral moderation

The deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly are facilitated by a neutral moderation team. The Citizens' assembly will be supported by experts from science and practice in order to impart the necessary knowledge and provide well-founded professional support. The course of the deliberations will be made accessible to the public in a suitable form. However, the deliberations will take place in small groups in a non-public form. In individual cases, "members of parliament and representatives of the press may be granted access to Citizens' assembly meetings". A website and "other appropriate digital channels" will be used to publish information, documents, presentations and statements.

The Citizens' assembly is supported by the Citizens' Assembly Project Team of the Bundestag administration, which guides the external service provider commissioned with its implementation. "When designing the implementation, care must be taken to ensure that the participants can sufficiently influence the focus of the content within the framework of the Citizens' Assembly's mandate," the motion states. The project team would discuss this concept and other questions of fundamental importance arising during the implementation with the Citizens' Assembly rapporteur group formed by the Council of Elders.

Citizens' assembly presents recommendations for action

The Scientific Advisory Board should consist of twelve scientists from recognised universities and research institutions, appointed by the parliamentary groups via the Citizens' assembly rapporteur group, if possible by consensus. The advisory board is to give advice to the service provider on the composition of the expert pool as well as on the design of the process. It is also envisaged that representatives of "the relevant associations and institutions from business and civil society" will be invited to an open hearing procedure before the Citizens' assembly begins its deliberations. The subject of the hearing is to be the operationalisation of the question proposed by the service provider, the process design and the composition of the expert pool.

The Citizens' assembly is to present its recommendations for action to the German Bundestag by 29 February 2024 in the form of a citizens' report. A debate on the report will take place in the first debate. It is intended to refer the report to the Committee on Food and Agriculture for lead deliberation. In addition, the Committees for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, for Health, for Labour and Social Affairs, for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, for Internal Affairs and Community, for Climate Action and Energy, for Culture and Media Affairs, for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as for Housing, Urban Development, Building and Local Government are to be involved in an advisory capacity. (nki/hau/10.05.2023)