Bicameralism and its Discontents

Parliamentary second chambers are a common, yet peculiar feature of constitutions worldwide. Their diversity of design and the assorted roles they play in majoritarian democracies are reason enough for a comparative analysis, but there is more: Bicameralism – and its discontents – is in the air. Countries within and outside of Europe have recently made attempts to reform or abolish their respective upper houses. We have asked distinguished scholars from all of these nations to provide us with accounts of the debates in their countries.

News

Mon 27. October 11:56
I know it’s wrong but I just can’t do right: First impressions on judgment no. 238 of 2014 of the Italian Constitutional Court
Fri 17. October 08:47
“Adopting a new constitution was crucial for national reconciliation”
Wed 15. October 09:00
Too big to handle: Why we are so bad at preventing catastrophes

Up for Debate

 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

Bicameralism: an antipodean perspective

Nicholas Aroney

As outposts of the British Empire, the various state parliaments of Australia, and New Zealand as a whole, inherited the Westminster system of government with an elected lower house, in which government is formed, and an unelected house of review. In little under two hundred years, these parliaments have undergone a range of reforms, including democratisation of their upper houses. Two jurisdictions, however, took bolder steps: the Australian state of Queensland, and New Zealand, both demolished their upper houses entirely – with mixed results, at best. Continue reading

281 Nicholas Aroney

I know it’s wrong but I just can’t do right: First impressions on judgment no. 238 of 2014 of the Italian Constitutional Court

Filippo Fontanelli

On 22 October 2014, the Italian Constitutional Court (CC) delivered its judgment on state immunity and tort claims by Italian citizens against Germany. This ruling reignited the fire of Ferrini (a 2004 judgment of the Italian Supreme Court), which kept burning under the ashes, after the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had seemingly put it off for good. It is only possible to appreciate the import of the CC’s judgment in perspective, as the last (or latest) act of a legal melodrama that would be entertainingly captivating if it were not real. Continue reading

276 Filippo Fontanelli
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

The Belgian Senate: little damage, little use

Caroline van Wynsberghe

The Belgian Senate has just emerged from a major State reform which has significantly reduced its competences. The absence of a federal political culture and the presence of a very strong party system make it hard for the Second Chamber to find a proper role in the political system of Belgium. Continue reading

271 Caroline van Wynsberghe
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

Two Faces of German Bicameralism

Johannes Saurer

In times of small coalitions the face of bicameralism in Germany oftentimes expresses conflict and stalemate. On the other hand, there is the very different face of bicameralism in times of grand coalitions. These two alternating faces of German bicameralism result from a particular historical decision on constitutional design. Continue reading

274 Johannes Saurer
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

Ireland’s Senate: An Introduction

Eoin Carolan

When the current Government proposed its abolition in a referendum in 2013, perhaps the most notable feature of the debate was the consensus on all sides that there is little, if any, justification for the retention of the Seanad in its current form. In a result that contradicted pre-referendum opinion polls, voters rejected the proposed abolition. Given the widespread agreement during the campaign about the inadequacy of the current institution, attention naturally turned to the question of how the Seanad might be reformed. Continue reading

270 Eoin Carolan
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

The UK House of Lords

Dawn Oliver

The UK does not have a supreme court with power to strike down laws that are contrary to the constitution, human rights and so on. Instead the system relies heavily on intra-parliamentary mechanisms, operating in the House of Lords. While the current unelected composition of the Lords is controversial and difficult to justify rationally, it is widely agreed across the political spectrum that the Chamber discharges its functions in legislative scrutiny and examination of public polices well. Continue reading

268 Dawn Oliver
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

The Canadian Senate and the (Im)Possibilities of Reform

Kate Glover

The framers of Canada’s Constitution had a vision for the Senate as a complementary, deliberative body bringing regional perspectives to national issues and genuine powers of oversight and sober second thought. It is widely agreed, though, that the Senate’s constitutional configuration stains Canada’s public institutions. The Senate needs change, but the impulse to reform is stifled by the reluctance of officials to open the constitutional amending formula. Continue reading

267 Kate Glover
 Focus  Bicameralism and its Discontents

Bicameralism and its Discontents

Johannes Bethge

Parliamentary second chambers are a common, yet peculiar feature of constitutions worldwide. Their diversity of design and the assorted roles they play in majoritarian democracies are reason enough for a comparative analysis, but there is more: Bicameralism – and its discontents – is in the air. Countries within and outside of Europe have recently made attempts to reform or abolish their respective upper houses. We have asked distinguished scholars from all of these nations to provide us with accounts of the debates in their countries. Continue reading

168 Johannes Bethge
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Op-ed

Too big to handle: Why we are so bad at preventing catastrophes

2014-10-12 Disaster
(c) sea turtle, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Financial crises, genocides, environmental catastrophes, epidemics, wars – constantly things happen we knew exactly that they would a) happen with some likeliness or even certainty, and b) be absolutely horrible. And still we have let it happen. And not just because we could not help it. But because somehow, all things considered, we did not want to. We haven’t done what we could have done. We didn’t want to know what we could have known. What is this strange phenomenon about? And how can we improve ourselves? To find answers to those questions, last week an extraordinarily illustrious group of scholars from all sorts of disciplines had assembled at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. Continue reading

Will an independent Scotland stay in the EU?

2014-09-05 Schottland
(c) James Stringer, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

In less than two weeks we will know whether or not Scotland will remain part of the UK. In the polls, the No camp still leads, but just by a slight and shrinking margin. It might actually happen what has never happened before: One EU member state becomes two. Or, will they? Continue reading

Bosnia and the problem of generalizable human rights gauges

2014-07-15 Bosnien
(c) Amanda Robinson, Flickr CC BY-BC-ND 2.0

For five years Bosnia has been digging its heels in, refusing to align its constitution to the demands of the ECHR and to grant non-bosniacs, -serbs and -croats the right to be elected to its second chamber of legislation. Now, the Strasbourg Court has once again declared this state of affairs unacceptable. But what if it would hold other constitutional systems, such as that of the European Union, up to the standard it applies in the Bosnian case? Continue reading

Burqa Ban: My Right to Be Left Alone is Your Tough Luck

2014-07-07 Trespassing
(c) Michael Dorausch, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

An often heard argument in the debate on the burqa ban decision by the ECtHR is that a minimum of "vivre ensemble" is a condition of all freedom and hence a legitimate balancing factor with the rights to privacy and religious freedom. This, though, is irreconcilable with the "right to be left alone". Continue reading

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