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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.

Open access
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.

Open access
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
The Swiss Ständerat: a Model of Perfect Bicameralism

Abstract

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.

Open access
Unicameralism, Bicameralism, Multicameralism: Evolution and Trends in Europe

Abstract

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.

Open access
Differentiated integration contingent on objective ability: a federalist critique

Abstract

This article is inspired by the 2017 discussions on the future of Europe (in particular some of the ideas debated in the White Paper on the Future of Europe, published by the European Commission) and the events that took place in the crises and post-crises period (aftermath of the financial crisis, ongoing refugee crisis and the Brexit shock). It is particularly interested in the scenario of differentiated integration. In this regard, it observes how in the aftermath of the crises, there was a shift in the rationale of differentiated integration with objective (in)ability of the states taking a prominent role. It presents a federalist critique of this development, drawing on the work of Daniel Elazar, discussing the concepts of non-centralization, federal process and federal covenant in the context of the 2017 discussions in the EU.

Open access
Eurosceptic Federalism: Paradoxes and Relevance of a long-running Critique of European Integration

Abstract

In recent political debate, the association between national souverainisme and Euroscepticism is considered a natural one. From Marine Le Pen to Matteo Salvini, there is a unanimous affirmation of the necessity to defend national sovereignty against the threat of Brussels. But if we take a more in-depth look, we can see how European Integration has fed two different approaches to European federalism: the first began in 1951, a concrete path on which a kind of European federation was progressively built, while the second has considered the same path to be an obstacle in the attempt to move towards a possible European federation. According to the first group the process of integration has been better than nothing while, the opinion of the second is that the same process has been worse than nothing. Such Eurosceptic Federalism finds its roots in the anti-cosmopolitan federalism of the interwar debate and unifies, paradoxically, radical libertarians and convinced communitarians.

Open access