Unwanted expertise

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

Participatory democracy - that sounds good. However, the promise of allowing citizens and experts to participate more in political decision-making usually remains more of a project than a process. Advisory committees are supposed to help fine-tune legislative texts. But even the knowledge of specialised commissions often seems to lie fallow - or to be laid aside entirely.

Advisory boards and commissions are supposed to fill the sometimes large blind spots in politics. With a critical eye, they fight for the groups and values that are often forgotten. In doing so, the smaller bodies usually work in the shadow of the large professional and trade chambers. But while they do not have the resources to write hundreds of reports and opinions every year, their perspectives are no less important.

In fact, bodies such as the Commission on Human Rights (CCDH), the Conseil Supérieur de l'Education nationale (CSEN) and the Conseil Supérieur des personnes handicapées (CSPH) should, on behalf of the government, review any legislative text that falls within their area of expertise before the text is voted on in the Chamber. The aim is to provide MPs with the necessary means to make informed decisions and advocate for amendments. Even while laws are being drafted, the commissions and councillors can theoretically be consulted and thus incorporate their knowledge into the first version of the text. If this does not happen, they can intervene themselves. For they have a lot to say. But whether they are heard – or even asked – is another question.

The Consultative Commission on Human Rights (Commission consultative des droits de l'homme, CCDH) has found its way into the public sphere more often since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic than before. The question: "Does this Covid-19 law respect human rights?" suddenly became of burning interest – and the CCDH had a say in the form of 21 advisory opinions on Covid laws.

Never before has the CCDH's opinion been so sought after as in the past two years: the number of enquiries addressed to it has roughly doubled compared to previous years due to the many Covid laws.

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