Bicameralism and Political Legitimacy

To constitute a democratic order based on freedom and equality, the political system of a society needs to reflect its complexity. Processes of collective decision-making need to allow for the political expression of societal differentiation and diversity. Bicameralism is a crucial mechanism in this regard. Most basically, bicameralism means a diversification of political institutions. It establishes yet another layer of structural complexity within the legislative branch and the actual law-making procedure. It diffuses and decentres legislative power. Bicameral decision-making tends to articulate conflict rather than consensus. It allows for expressing certain aspects of political pluralism and disagreement. Although or maybe because bicameralism aims for legislation to be grounded in a more inclusive, comprehensive political consensus, bicameral decision-making tends to articulate conflict rather than accord. It therefore is of some intrinsic value and justification in societies that are internally heterogeneous and organized in politically self-governing sub-entities.

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The Italian reform of bicameralism: is the time ripe?

Italy’s unique "perfect bicameralism" has often been criticized for its inefficiency. The latest attempt to reform it, brought forward by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, is still debated in parliament. The destiny of the Italian bicameralism and the resolution of the Italian oxymoron lies on the thin line of the agreement between the main political forces, which seems quite frail and uncertain at the moment.

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Bicameralism: an antipodean perspective

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.

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The Belgian Senate: little damage, little use

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.

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Two Faces of German Bicameralism

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.

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Ireland’s Senate: An Introduction

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.

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The UK House of Lords

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.

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The Canadian Senate and the (Im)Possibilities of Reform

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.

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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.

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