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Open access

Anna Gamper

Abstract

Legislative functions of federal second chambers are not a homogeneous set of powers, but require comparison and classification. First, the paper will examine the legislative functions of the second chambers of those European states that have a federal or quasifederal character (Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom). Second, the paper addresses the normative concept of the legislative functions of federal second chambers: what is the particularly federal rationale behind these legislative powers, and are there other constitutional rationales as well? Do some legislative functions serve purposes of federalism better than others and does a dichotomy between ‘weak-form’ and ‘strong-form’ veto powers apply in this context? This will also require some discussion on whether perfect or imperfect bicameralism and the requirements of internal decision-making play a role in this regard.

Open access

Giuseppe Martinico

Abstract

This article briefly explores the reasons why the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has only partially accomplished its representative function. It is divided into three parts. In the first part I argue that the ambiguous nature of the CoR is the consequence of the polysemous notion of ‘region’ in EU law (Palermo, 2005) and of the very heterogeneous approach to the ‘federal issue’ in Europe. In the second part of the article I look at the recent developments that have given the CoR new powers, for instance in light of Art. 263 TFEU in order to defend its own prerogatives and Art. 8 of Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. This will be done by looking at a recent resolution of the CoR on a proposal made by the EU Commission to amend Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013. Finally, I deal with some proposals that have been advanced to strengthen the role of the CoR, and their feasibility.

Open access

Matthias Niedobitek

Abstract

The German Basic Law constitutes federalism as a unique political system which is characterised by intertwined decision-making of the Federation (Bund) and the component units (Länder). The executives of the two federal tiers and the Länder executives within the Bundesrat play a major role in making joint decisions. They are forced to make decisions in the ‘joint-decision mode’ (Politikverflechtung) which is detrimental to accountability. Reform efforts were made to unbundle competences and to reduce the number of bills which require the Bundesrat’s consent. Due to the dominance of the executives and the distribution of powers between the federal tiers (legislation is dominated by the Bund, execution is dominated by the Länder), German federalism is rightly called ‘executive federalism’. German federalism can even be regarded as an embodiment of that concept since it covers all possible aspects of ‘executive federalism’. The Bundesrat has an important share in that classification.

Open access

Esther Happacher

Abstract

Discussions regarding the functional design of second chambers in federal or quasifederal systems seem to focus mainly on legislative functions. Thus, extra- or nonlegislative functions related to the executive branch or the judiciary have been rather neglected in the literature. This paper will examine the extra-legislative functions of second chambers which include Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. By grouping the functions into different categories (relations with the Government, appointment functions and functions in the field of international affairs, powers in relation to the European Union and functions granted to maintain the legitimate constitutional order), their effectiveness in serving the purposes of bicameralism, and of regional representation, will be explored.

Open access

Patricia Popelier

Abstract

Belgium was established in 1830 as a unitary state with a bicameral parliament, with symmetrical powers for the upper and the lower house. While federalism and bicameralism are often considered a pair, the Belgian system shows an inverse relationship. The Senate gradually turned into a house representative of the sub-states, but its powers declined inversely proportional to the level of decentralisation of the Belgian state. This paper inquires how the dismantling of the Belgian Senate fits in the increasingly devolutionary nature of the Belgian state structure. First, it nuances the link between bicameralism and federalism: bicameralism is an institutional device for federalism, but not by necessity, and only under specific conditions. The official narrative is that the Belgian Senate was reformed to turn it into a house of the sub-states in line as a federal principle, but in reality the conditions to fulfil this task are not fulfilled. Instead, the paper holds that bicameralism in Belgium is subordinate to the needs of multinational conflict management, and that complying with the federative ideal of an upper house giving voice to the collective needs of the sub-states would stand in the way of the evolution of the Belgian system towards confederalism based on two major linguistic groups.

Open access

Francesco Palermo

Abstract

The paper contends that bicameral systems, irrespective of their differences in composition and powers, are unfit to represent territorial interests in the national decisionmaking process, except in some residual cases. What subnational entities seek is participation rather than representation. This is why alternative, executive-based institutions in which also the national government is present are mushrooming and second chambers are ineffective as territorial bodies. Furthermore, there is a clear trend to move from bicameralism to bilateralism, meaning that instead of taking advantage of ineffective multilateral institutions, strong subnational units try to channel their claims through bilateral instruments. Overall, the unresolved dilemma of subnational representation has little to do with the architecture of second chambers and rather lays in the tension between individual and collective representation.

Open access

Peter Bußjäger

Abstract

According to many legal and political scientists the Austrian Bundesrat is generally considered to be a paradigmatic example of a politically and legally weak second chamber embedded in a strongly centralised federal system. This view is justified. However, there is the need for a more differentiated view with regard to Austria’s federal system and its second chamber.

Open access

Meg Russell

Abstract

The House of Lords is the world’s longest-established and probably best-known second chamber. Wholly unelected, with most members appointed for life, it appears a vestige of the ‘elite’ form of bicameralism once common throughout Europe. Hence calls for major reform are commonplace. However successful changes have been piecemeal and rare. Meanwhile the UK is not federal, but is nonetheless a ‘union state’, comprising the territories of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with its own distinct governing arrangements. These were most recently boosted by the 1997 Labour government’s devolution programme. Hence for decades, and particularly the last 20 years, devolution and Lords reform have both been on the UK’s political agenda. Throughout this time attempts to create a ‘second chamber of the nations and regions’ have repeatedly failed. This paper reviews the proposals made, and the obstacles they faced - drawing lessons for Britain, and territorial bicameralism more widely.

Open access

Jacek Czaputowicz and Marcin Kleinowski

Abstract

The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a new system of weighted votes in the Council, which radically departs from the principles on which the distribution of votes between the Member States of the EU was based for more than half a century. At the same time, the system of double majority is fundamentally different from the assumptions on which voting systems in federal states are based, including in the Bundesrat. Systems used in federal states are usually based on a compromise between the equality of states, and the equality of citizens. Consequently, in the Nice system, smaller Member States in the EU had relatively greater power compared to their populations than smaller federal units in the German Bundesrat. The results presented in this paper indicate that the Lisbon system of voting in the Council differs significantly from voting systems in federal states.

Open access

Kamil Ł. Ławniczak

Abstract

The Council is a crucial intergovernmental institution of the European Union. However, the complex, opaque and consensual character of the decision-making process in the Council puts its legitimacy into question. Intergovernmentalist theory posits that it is sufficiently legitimised, indirectly, by the member state governments. Constructivist research, on the other hand, suggests that socialisation might disturb the relaying of positions from the national to the supranational level, as the former approach implies. This paper aims to explore these issues, in particular related to representation and consensus. It contains an analysis of material generated in in-depth interviews and concludes that more effort is invested into reaching a more inclusive compromise in the Council than one would expect if it were to decide by qualified majority. Socialisation is weakening the input legitimacy of decisions made in the Council, while at the same time enhancing their output legitimacy by favouring genuine consensus.