Citizens’ Cabinets nominated for European democracy prize


Flanders’ culture minister was all over the news this week as his Citizens’ Cabinet was nominated for an innovation in politics prize and as he revealed on a TV talk show that he suffers from depression

‘It is still taboo’

Flemish culture minister Sven Gatz (pictured) won plaudits this week for an initiative that brings citizens into policymaking, and for his personal openness about mental health. A day after his Citizens’ Cabinet project was nominated for an international award, he went onto late-night TV to discuss living with depression.

The Burgerkabinet, or Citizens’ Cabinet, was nominated this week in the democracy section of the Innovation in Politics Awards. The pan-European competition aims to highlight political projects that break new ground, are creative and achieve real results.

Gatz’s initiative was praised for the way it involves citizens in policymaking and takes their recommendations into account. Each Citizens’ Cabinet begins with an online platform setting out a policy challenge, followed by citizens’ meetings organised by local organisations. The process concludes with a meeting in the Flemish parliament to formulate policy recommendations.

Jury of 1,000

“We’ve succeeded in demonstrating that a new and complementary way of decision-making can work within our democracy,” said Gatz. “I hope that colleagues at home and abroad will follow this example.”

A jury of more than 1,000 European citizens will consider the nominations in the coming weeks. The 10 projects with the highest scores will be invited to an award ceremony in Vienna in November.

Gatz turned to the more personal issue of depression during an appearance on Gert Late Night, a talk show on Vier. He confided that he been on anti-depressants for more than 20 years, and that his condition was connected to an inability to manage stress.

You can have high cholesterol or heart problems. For me it’s the wiring between my ears that is broken

- Sven Gatz

While he had resisted both the diagnosis and the idea of taking medication, he now accepted that it was the best way of managing a routine health problem. “Everyone can have a weak spot,” he said on the show. “You can have high cholesterol or heart problems. For me it’s the wiring between my ears that is broken.”

He was also keen to bring the subject into the open. “It is still taboo. People think you are a weakling, but we all know someone who has had or will have depression.”

Gatz’s frankness saw both positive and negative reactions on social media. “There were people who also had depression and were glad it was being discussed, and others who appreciated that I could show this vulnerability,” he told Bruzz. “But there were also some negative reactions from people who did not want to be governed by a minister with depression.”

Photo: Dirk Waem/BELGA