29 September 2012

Legislative process

In this post I will discuss for the last time matters that are common for the whole federal parliament, both its chambers, namely the legislative process.

Nobody doubts that laws are a very important matter, after all I have written in the suggestion of the constitution's section about fundamental rights that duties can be imposed only by the law. Therefore high attention must be paid to rules of their making and therefore main principles of lawmaking have to be defined by the constitution, as it is common in states' constitutions (though principles of lawmaking are sometimes written in a separate law). My following proposal for the most part corresponds to common constitutional texts regulating this matter but it partially differs also, in particular for the reason of my different view of relation between the executive and the legislative power in the state.

This my different point of view is expressed just in the first suggested paragraph. This paragraph determines who has the right to lay bills and it enumerates only individual members of the Assembly of the Union or groups of its members. The executive power (the Council of Chancellors in my terminology) is utterly absent here, not by an oversight but wholly deliberately. It is a common practice in European (and extra-European) states that the executive power (the government) lays bills and nobody is puzzled about it. Let us however ask why should it be so. Separation of the state power in the legislative and the executive power is based on a theory originating already in the age of Enlightenment and saying that the power in the state can easily turn into tyranny if concentrated in one pair of hands. Therefore was introduced that someone else makes laws and someone else acts according to them. The legislative power creates rules but cannot enforce them in practice and the executive power then pursues practical measures but only in the frame of rules that the legislative power gave to it – both state powers control each other this way. Or it theoretically should be at least so. But if governments lay bills in practice, they in fact create rules to themselves according to which they will act – and it definitely breaks purpose of separation of these state powers. Some people can make an objection that it is not duty of the legislative power (the parliament) to automatically pass government's bills but we know how the things are: governments are formed in order that they have so called parliamentary majority, that is in order that – among other thing – government's bills easily pass in parliament votings. If governments have such parliamentary majority (and they have it almost always), government's bills really pass almost always and control of the executive power by the legislative power is thus only formal (the government gives rules to itself). The principle of separation of the executive and the legislative power and their mutual control is weakened in present European states (also for other ground than this but I will deal with it more precisely in the section about the executive power) and the executive power gets too predominant position. It is necessary to restore balance between these two state powers in conformity with the theory of separation of state powers and a wholly new constitution of the European federation gives an opportunity for it. My proposal assumes no exceptions.

It is common in bicameral parliaments that bills are laid to one predetermined chamber, typically the “lower” one. But this favours one selected chamber to the other one and is not therefore applicable for my proposal of the constitution of the European Union according to my view because I have written in a previous post that both chambers of the European federal parliament should have equal position. In order that it is maintained no chamber can be preferred in the legislative process, so my suggestion of the second paragraphs says that a bill is discussed first in the chamber in which it was laid.

The third paragraph is the longest among all paragraphs of this article and it generally regulates the process of adopting a bill in the frame of one parliamentary chamber. It expressly demands adoption in three steps - readings and shortly describes individual steps. In the first reading all deputies of the respective chamber should be informed about a bill and should decide whether they will discuss it further. In the second reading the deputies should have the possibility to propose amendments to the bill. I added also a remark that proposed amendments must refer to the discussed matter; this provision should prevent from creation of so called riders, proposed amendments by those their proposer tries to surreptitiously enforce a thing that would not pass as an independent proposal. The third reading then should serve for final adoption or rejection of the presented bill without the possibility of proposed amendments. Each reading should be followed by a debate which can be omitted at the request of absolute majority of the present (not all in this case) deputies of the respective chamber. The minimal period that should pass between the individual readings is a question. I am not sure what period is the most suitable, whether rather shorter or longer. I want however not to view the period between the individual readings as a mere technical break but as suitable retardation of the process of adoption a law making rash adoption of a bad law more difficult and giving a possibility to citizens to follow the legislative process and to react to it. That is the reason why I chose 20 days as the minimal period of time that has to pass between the individual readings; and my formulation prevents not that the chambers extend this period by their rules of procedure. The last sentence of this paragraph speaks just about the rule of procedure of each chamber and refers to it in particulars that cannot be included in the short text of the constitution itself. In the end, I must add mention of two explicitly enumerated exceptions for those is not meant what I have written above: the law about declaration of war and the law terminating state of war – one reading has to be sufficient in discussion about these laws for a possible concrete situation would hardly allow long-winded adoption of them. I reserved a separate paragraph for it; then, I will deal with it more in detail in a post discussing the executive power.

The next paragraph speaks about a majority necessary for adoption of a bill in the respective chamber. My suggestion is absolute majority, i.e. majority at least 50% of all deputies of the respective chamber (without regard to the number of deputies really present). I wrote about it in one of my previous posts already.

If one chamber approves a bill, this one must logically be sent to the second chamber where the same process of approval will take place. The fifth paragraph stipulates immediate sending an approved bill from one chamber to the other and determines that adoption of a law requires approval by both chambers.

In the suggestion of the sixth paragraph I return to the executive power. I concede some part to it in the legislative process after all, namely a possibility to return laws adopted by the parliament to it for reassessment. Although I disagree that the executive power itself makes laws (as it occurs today) I believe that the right of it to return a law to the parliament is an important component of mutual control of state powers. I concede this right of so called suspensive veto to the holder of the executive power of the European federation, the Council of Chancellors. It has 20 days for assenting to it or returning it with observations to the Assembly of the Union. In the second case each chamber has – without possibility of amendments – to vote on the law again and now the majority of 4/7 (=57%) of all deputies of the respective chamber is required because the parliament has to “outvote” the veto. The limit of 4/7 is a number that goes not much away from 50% and can be expressed in a so simple fraction as possible too. The paragraph determines two exceptions, again the mentioned laws about proclamation of war and terminating state of war – on the one hand for the reason of time, on the other hand for the reason of control of the executive power by the legislative power.

The eighth paragraph of my proposal determines how the adopted law comes into effect. It says that adopted law shall immediately be inscribed in the Official Journal of the Union and it comes into effect at that moment, unless the law itself determines something else.

The following two suggested paragraphs say what attributes adopted laws must not have. The ninth one determines contradiction to the constitution as the first such thing and forbids further a law to have retroactive effect. The tenth paragraph then forbids more mutually unrelated matters to be regulated in the frame of one law which should have positive influence on lucidity of federal laws (and it goes again against the so called riders as it is mentioned above).

The last paragraph of this suggested article resembles the previous two ones, it determines required components of the law about declaration of war because it is not desirable that it is promulgated carelessly and gives carte blanche to the executive power. According to me therefore a bill of such law must contain a reason of declaration of war, definite determination of the enemy and objective of military actions in order that it is not possible to arbitrarily misuse the armed forces of the federation.

That is all for this time, the next post will deal with special characteristics of each chamber.

01 September 2012

Rights and duties of the deputies

This post will again deal with both chambers of the federal parliament, it determines rights and duties of deputies of the parliament which will the same in both chambers. This post brings no peculiarities, it determines in principle rules usual in many or most states' constitutions.

The first paragraph of my suggestion states  precisely incompatibility of the functions, that is to say it enumerates the functions which the deputy of the European federal parliament cannot hold. Separation of individual kinds of state power in the frame of one state system has to be safeguarded in the first place and so the first paragraph forbids a deputy of the federal parliament to be a representative of the executive or judicial power of the federation. But beside that, it forbids him to hold any other with pay remunerated position in the federation because the deputies should devote themselves only to the work for which they were elected. Except for separation of individual kinds of power, also separation of constitutional functions of the federation and the member states must be maintained, nobody should be both a holder of state power of any member state and the federation or the federation and an autonomous region of any member state in the same time. For if the federal constitution determines separation of the state power of the member states and of the federation, also their exercise should be personally separated. A provision is then joined to this paragraph and says that nobody is allowed to be member of both chambers which is common and obvious provision of constitutions of all states whose parliament has two chambers.
The second paragraph establishes a principle of independence of the deputy. According to it, the deputy of the federal parliament may not vote in compliance with instructions of someone else. He must vote in person as well, not by proxy. For a specific deputy was elected (or appointed) and only he has his responsibility for the voting process, not someone else. Apart from this instruction of personal voting my suggestion stipulates three guidelines which the deputy shall follow in voting. These are own conscience, conformity with the constitution of the Union and interest of the people which he represents. Only the first is relatively common in constitutions, namely emphasis on voting according to conscience of the deputy though simple prohibition of giving instructions to the deputy mostly occurs. Much less widespread is a demand that voting of the deputy is in conformity with the constitution – it is probably regarded self-evident and it has been relied on possible correction in the form of constitutional judiciary. But I hold it important because the constitution (according to my suggestion) determines in the section of the basic rights but also in other its parts ground delimitation how the society of the European Union should be organized and what values should follow. And the deputies of the parliament should embody these values in individual concrete laws. The last of guidelines for voting, interests of the represented people, is the most unusual and is not commonly present in constitutions. But it is utterly logical provision – for there are only few other ways how to ensure that elected deputies keep what they promised when they were candidates. The deputies were above all elected just for that purpose that they represent the people and its interests. If the deputies voted without regard to the people that voted them, we could directly manage entirely without elected deputies. Finally, the last sentence of this paragraph says that every member of the Assembly of the Union has one vote which expresses equality of all deputies.
The following two paragraphs protect – as is usual in constitutions – elected deputies from unjustified persecution that would be a pretext for exercise the function of a deputy impossible. The first paragraph says that no deputy may be persecuted for speeches or voting made by exercise of his mandate. The opposite naturally would make to represent certain opinion of the people inconvenient to certain powerful group impossible, on the other hand this provision makes not possible to enforce that a deputy really represents the people that elected him – those are two conflicting demands, but the first one is more important; besides, the people can secure its interests otherwise than through the deputies as I will write about it later.
The second paragraph then speaks about prosecution of a deputy for other acts than attitudes in the precinct of the parliament. It says that a deputy can be taken into custody only if he is committing a criminal offence or immediately after, otherwise he can be prosecuted only with consent of the chamber of which he is a member; the respective chamber also can postpone prosecution of the representative to the time of expiring of his mandate. All of these are provisions by whose constitutions commonly protect deputies of parliaments from unjustified prosecution.
The next my provision refers to pays of deputies of the parliament that they should obtain from the means of the Union. It is necessary from several reasons. It has been known already from the antiquity that if political activity shall be paid from own resources, only who can afford it will participate in it which goes against the principle of equity of access to elective functions as it is written in the suggestion of the second chapter of this constitution. The second reason is just the words “from the means of the Union”, because it is necessary that no deputy accepts any means (except for his regular pay) from somebody and is therefore not dependent on him. And in order that it is prevented my suggestion contains one more sentence saying that accepting other rewards is unacceptable.

Two paragraphs delimit the time of the deputy's mandate. The first is very brief, contains only one sentence saying that the mandate of the deputy is effective upon his election. The second paragraph enumerates circumstances of the end of the deputy's mandate; but I inserted before it a paragraph concerning the oath of a newly elected deputy. According to it, the new deputy must in the first sitting of his chamber in which he will take part swear an oath whose reading I directly wrote in my proposal and which is: “I, … (name of the person), hereby pledge to work for welfare of the people of the European Union, to represent it in accordance with my best conscience and to fulfill the spirit of the constitution of the Union.” I tried that all what I described above as guidelines for decision-making of the deputy is expressed in it.
So now is turn of the paragraph describing the end of the deputy's mandate. Some mentioned circumstances are obvious such as expiration of the term of mandate or death. Also an obstacle in the form of exercising an incompatible function as the first paragraph (of the proposal) mentioned above speaks about is logical. I added also words about refusing to take the oath or taking it with reservations so that the oath is not mere formality without significance; it is common practice by the way. Finally, I add one more way of ending the deputy's mandate that on the contrary is not a common practice (at least in Europe), namely recall election. For the people has to have the right to remove its representatives, I wrote about it in the post about political rights.
The last but one, the ninth paragraph of my proposal determines the right of the deputies to the so called interpellation, parliamentary question of representatives of the executive power of the federation. It is one (though not mighty one) possibility of control of the executive power by the legislative power. According to my suggestion every member of the Assembly of the Union shall have this right towards the representatives of the executive power (members of the Council of Chancellors – I will speak about this terminology later in a respective post) shall have obligation by words or in writing answer within 30 days (longer period of time would be in my opinion too excessive).

Because it is impossible to include entirely all duties and rights of the member of parliament, the last paragraph of this article says that details are stipulated by a separate law.