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Belgium: Is a participative democracy possible?

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This document begins by defining participative democracy: ?The participative democracy is a whole of devices which aim at ensuring the certain form of participation of the citizens in the decision-making processes of the public authorities. It is the construction of a collective answer to a particular question. We can distinguish a passive process such as information from the citizens and an active process of consultation, the dialogue, or the co-production?.

In Belgium, one cannot deny that this participative democracy is not disturbed. Its best known mechanism is its supposed simplicity and its history that by its experiments on the ground is the communal popular consultation instituted in 1995. It is defined at the local level by the royal question of 1950, to avoid any risk of rift, and to act on a local Community development. On the other hand, it is not legally bound by the authority, and leaves doubts for the political bond which could remain.

They called into question the usefulness of the participatory approach is more relevant than in modern representative systems; there is a lag increasingly important between citizens and politics. What might constitute a breach in which the mechanisms of participatory democracy would find their natural place, a sort of third sector between elected officials and voters?

In this particular context, with regard to the turning point for the evolution of our modern representative system, we are entitled to ask whether the perspective of the development of participatory democracy is a way out. And if it is, then to what extent and to what degree?

This document will try to bring some analytical frameworks and highlight the differences of views on the subject to help better understand this phenomenon. But first, it stress that it has chosen to focus the research on texts written by French authors, and this, for organizational reasons. The time available for this work is relatively small; the authors decided not to address the various English-speaking authors who have written on the subject. The authors are mindful, however, of not mentioning the important place they occupy in the search field.

Since the 1970s and the significant increase of professional politicians, leading to growing distance between politics and citizens, interest in the participatory approach has continued to grow. According to Ian Budge, there is "a de facto movement toward direct democracy, about to lead to the supremacy of democracy in the form of government in our societies."

According to him, direct democracy is a logical extension of universal suffrage. This prospect is not alarming in that the present direct democracy, he said, fewer defects than representative democracy. It emphasizes the paradox inherent in the idea of the incompetence of the ordinary citizen, often raised against a direct democracy. "If people are incompetent to legislate, why do they not also choose their legislators"?

Then, outside their sphere of competence, politicians suffer from a lack of expertise as pronounced as that of other citizens. Finally, broad participation could remedy some flaws could allow a democratic and reintegration of the excluded. In this perspective, participatory democracy is not only possible and desirable, but only one step towards direct democracy.

Tags: Belgium; democracy; participative democracy; possibility of a Belgian participative democracy

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