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Belgium: The rise of institutionalized mini-publics

Julien Vrydagh, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and UCLouvain

Tue 28 January 2020


The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


In less than a year, Belgium has witnessed a large and sudden rise of institutionalized mini-publics. After the Ostbelgien model, the Regional Parliament of Brussels has institutionalized Citizens’ deliberative commissions, while multiple municipalities of Brussels are launching neighbourhood councils and a political party got elected based on a single promise to organize citizens’ assemblies. Belgium seems to become a leading laboratory of deliberative democracy and citizen participation. This ‘revolution’ is nonetheless surprising, for Belgium was known to be a copy-book example of neo-corporatism, whereby citizens tended to be excluded from political decision-making. How can we explain this increase? Is it a revolution or an incremental change?  What do these new institutionalized mini-publics entail? What are their promises and pitfalls?

This informative seminar will try to answer these questions by discussing dimension of this rise. First, I present its genesis and background. Examining Belgian mini-publics from 2001 until 2018, it provides both a descriptive analysis of what preceded and a narrative accounting for this expansion. Second, it explains in detail the design and competencies of four specific institutionalized mini-publics :

  • a brief remainder of the Ostbelgien model;

  • the Brussels’ Deliberative Commission (composed by elected representatives and randomly selected citizens);

  • the atypical Citizens’ Assemblies organized by the political party Agora

  • the neighbourhood mini-publics (sometimes combined with participatory budgets), which are mushrooming in Brussels’ municipalities.

About the speaker

Julien Vrydagh is a PhD student and a teaching assistant at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the UCLouvain. His PhD thesis investigates the conditions under which mini-publics influence public policy in Belgium. His other research interests include the link between the mini- and maxi-public, the integration of mini-publics in collaborative governance, and youth parliaments. Julien Vrydagh also provides the City of Brussels with advices on its randomly selected neighbourhood councils.

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