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Bicameralism in Belgium: the dismantlement of the Senate for the sake of multinational confederalism

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.

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Extra-legislative Functions of Second Chambers in Federal Systems

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.

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The German Bundesrat and Executive Federalism

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.

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History of a (Limited) Success: Five Points on the Representativeness of the Committee of the Regions

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
Legislative Functions of Second Chambers in Federal Systems

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.

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The Lesson from the Modern American Federalism: A Challenge to Effective Public Policy Performance

Abstract

Contemporary U.S. federalism particularly since the late1960s has evolved over the course of pluralism alternating exercisable governmental powers between the federal and state governments. The complexity of the power relationship has been observed in a variety of policies during the past quarter-century as has the discussion of whether or not contemporary U.S. federalism has developed in a way that increase effective public policy performance. Focusing mainly on the period of the past 50 years of U.S. federalism history, this article suggests that federalism dynamics have not exercised either constant liberal or conservative influence on public policy performance. Instead, this article suggests that the clear functional responsibility between the federal government and state and local governments have characterized contemporary U.S. federalism-more federal responsibility for redistribution and more state and local responsibility for development, which in turn increased public policy performance. This feature has been quite substantial since 1970s. As a result, this article suggests that despite the increased complexity of the U.S. federal system, it has evolved in such an appropriate way that would increase the efficiency of federal system by dividing a clear intergovernmental responsibility on major policy platforms.

Open access
Perfect and Imperfect Bicameralism: A Misleading Distinction?

Abstract

The aim of this contribution is to make some points on the distinction between ‘perfect’ (or equal) and ‘imperfect’ (or unequal) bicameralism and its relevance to contemporary discussions about second chambers and their constitutional position. The analysis starts with an assumption that this distinction is somehow under-theorised. The distinction between perfect and imperfect bicameralism, finally resulting in a clear prevalence of the latter, mainly focuses on two aspects: the exercise of legislative function and, in parliamentary regimes, the confidence vote. In spite of the unquestionable relevance of these two components to the activity of parliaments, these analyses are incomplete. The functions and competences of a given second chamber depend on the way it represents pluralism: the weight that each legal system attaches to the representative role of its own second chamber decisively shapes the perimeter of their functions. Important evidence for validating this claim comes from the procedures for passing constitutional amendments, in which second chambers, even in a number of ‘unequal’ bicameral systems, are put on equal footing with first chambers.

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Representing Regions, Challenging Bicameralism: An Introduction

Abstract

This special issue publishes a number of conference papers presented at the conference ‘Representing Regions, Challenging Bicameralism’ that took place on 22 and 23 March 2018 at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. In this issue, the developments of European bicameral parliaments in (quasi-)federal states are dealt with as well as the political impact of shared rule and alternative models to second chambers. Several papers compare the organizational and functional design of territorial second chambers. Finally, closer examination is given to the EU’s Committee of Regions and the second chambers in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

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The Secession Issue and Territorial Autonomy in Spain: Bicameralism Revisited

Abstract

The Spanish Constitution defines the Senate as 'Chamber of territorial representation'. But in the Senate the provinces are represented, not the Autonomous Communities. The Senate is a Chamber of ‘sober second thought’, subordinated to the lower House, whose will prevails in the event of discrepancy. It lacks specific powers with regard to territorial autonomy; in spite of this, there has been an attempt to assign it relevance in this sphere by creating a General Committee on Autonomous Communities. By way of exception the Senate is exclusively responsible for the decision to authorize the Government to apply measures of ’federal coercion'. This constitutional provision was first activated in October 2017, in the context of the secessionist process in Catalonia, as a result of the repeated noncompliance by the authorities of the resolutions of the Constitutional Court (CC), which concluded with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Parliament at the same time as the adoption of the measures of federal coercion. The Senate demonstrated that even in a case in which it has the reserved competence, as in the authorization of the adoption of measures of federal coercion, it lacks the capacity to be a federal Chamber.

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Shared Rule vs Self-Rule? Bicameralism, Power-Sharing and the ‘Joint Decision Trap’

Abstract

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.

Open access