An analysis of the structure of parliaments in European countries shows that a wide range of options developed across the centuries. However, many of these patterns (among which tetracameralism, tricameralism, and qualified unicameralism) did not survive, despite their sometimes-remarkable historical interest. Currently, parliaments in Europe are either unicameral or bicameral: while unicameralism is the most common option, bicameralism is generally adopted in more populous countries and/or States with strong territorial autonomies. As a matter of fact, among varieties of bicameralism, the most common is characterized by a ‘territorial’ second chamber. Nevertheless, other types of bicameralism deserve attention too, not only to provide a comprehensive outline of the comparative scene, but also to find features that can define emerging trends. For this purpose, a classification of bicameralism will be outlined, mainly examining the patterns displayed by second chambers and the relationships between the two chambers. Combining this classification with the outcomes of the choice between unicameralism and bicameralism, some trends can be detected, although national experiences are so diverse that reliable norms are difficult to identify.
Eva Maria Belser
This paper presents the Swiss Ständerat as a model of perfect bicameralism. It looks at the constitutional design of the second Chamber, examines the evolution of the Ständerat and critically assesses its current functioning. The author claims that the Swiss Federal Assembly is still based on almost perfect bicameralism but that the second Chamber only very imperfectly represents the regions. Having highlighted the current role and justification of the second Chamber, the paper will raise the question whether the Ständerat fulfils other useful functions justifying its existence. Does the sheer fact of having two differently composed Chambers prevent capricious and precipitous decision-making? The paper then turns to alternative mechanisms of representing regions at the federal level, briefly looks at other mechanisms available to Cantons to make their voices heard in the capital and presents the House of the Cantons as an evolving third Chamber complementing the Ständerat.
In federal and regionalised states, bicameralism constitutes shared rule between levels of governments. At the same time, second chambers serve as a safeguard protecting selfrule of decentralised governments against the encroachments of central legislation into their areas of responsibility. Both functions seem to be best fulfilled in legislative systems requiring joint decisions of legislative chambers. Depending on particular conditions, joint decision-making involves the risk that legislation ends with ineffective compromises or even fails. Under favourable conditions, it provides a productive structure to apply shared rule and protect self-rule. Comparative studies can identify these conditions, and appropriate ways to adjust institutional designs of bicameralism accordingly, bearing in mind that significant institutional reforms of bicameral systems are difficult to achieve.