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May 5, 2015

Dutch to Fund Trials in Direct Democracy

Dutch to Fund Trials in Direct Democracy

In a bid to decentralise state authority, the Dutch Government recently announced it will support social experiments in which citizens have direct influence over schools, social housing corporations, welfare programmes and more.

Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk says he wants to support local experimentation with more participatory forms of democracy. He’s outlined his plans in the Agenda of Local Democracy, which he has forwarded to Parliament and Dutch municipalities.

According to Plasterk, the current system of holding elections every four years doesn’t engage citizens adequately. Citizens have ideas and the will to steer social initiatives, and this should be encouraged, he said.

Plasterk named several ongoing local initiatives as examples of the experiments the state should support, including the City Council of the Future, “societal shareholdership”, budget monitoring, “neighbourhood rights” and participative G1000 meetings.

With societal shareholdership, citizens have more direct influence in the governing boards of schools, social housing corporations and welfare offices. “Neighbourhood rights”, meanwhile, refers to allowing groups of citizens to participate in public tenders, have rights of first refusal over the ownership of disused public buildings, propose plans for neighbourhood developments and have the right to public information and city staff support for their initiatives.

G1000 meetings in the Netherlands are inspired by the Belgian example of deliberative democracy championed by author David van Reybrouck. In a deliberative process, citizens come to concrete proposals for the future of their municipality in the fields of health and welfare care, energy production and supply, local libraries and more.

Minister Plasterk concludes his agenda by stating that participatory forms of democracy could complement traditional forms. Current exercises in citizen participation often amount to the government drumming up support for its own policies and actions. This should change into a true participatory system that gives citizens real influence in the public domain, the agenda states.

To support this transition, Plasterk wants to support experiments and he says the government should tolerate failures and learn from these mistakes. Open minds are a prerequisite for Agenda of Local Democracy, he writes.

Part of the agenda is the project Democratic Challenge in which the minister wants to create room for new forms of participatory democracy. This project will facilitate the sharing of ideas and good practices (such as the Danish experiment of “free municipalities”), help to remove regulatory barriers, set up programmes that give modest financial to promising initiatives, and finance academic research into the results of G1000 meetings.