Brussels will allow members of the public to sit in on committees from next year
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    Brussels will allow members of the public to sit in on committees from next year

    The new rule allowing members of the public to sit in on committees was approved by the majority of parties in the chamber. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

    The Brussels regional parliament has overwhelmingly approved a proposal to include members of the public in committee deliberation from next year.

    The “civilians,” 45 of them chosen by a lottery, will take part in “consultation committees” along with 15 elected members. The committees can issue recommendations, but are now able to propose or approve legislation.

    The new rule was an initiative of green coalition Ecolo/Groen, and was supported by the majority of parties in the chamber, with the exception of Vlaams Belang, N-VA, MR and the left-wing PTB.

    This represents a major democratic renewal and a world premiere,” Groen said in a statement. “These consultation committees are also a response to the crisis taking place in political representation these days.”

    The process works as follows: 1,000 members of the public will be asked to suggest an issue to be considered by the parliament. That will then go to the consultation committee for consideration by MPs and by members of the public selected by lottery from among all residents of the capital older than 16 years, and chosen to represent the population as a whole. That includes, Groen said, people who were not allowed to vote in regional elections, such as foreign residents in Brussels.

    Meanwhile, in another move designed to increase public participation in the parliament’s processes, the threshold for the number of signatures to a petition allowing the initiative to be heard by the parliament is to drop to 1,000, making petitions a more effective way to have a point of view heard by legislators.

    As well as the introduction of civic committees, the parliament has also approved reforms including the live streaming of committee sittings, and the right of members of the parliament to demand an explanation on particular questions from a member of the Brussels regional government. And the criterion of gender will now be added to the list of criteria determining the order in which members may ask questions in the parliament’s sessions. At present questions are ordered according to whether the questioner is in the majority or opposition, according to language group and size of political fraction. In future, gender will also be considered in order to give women an equal voice. 

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times