30 October 2012

Characteristics of both parliamentary chambers

In the last post devoted to the federal parliament, I will deal with special characteristics of its individual chambers (houses). I will discuss both chambers altogether in one post because provisions about both of them will be similar.

I begin with a (constitutional) article devoted to the House of the People. Its first paragraph suggested by me characterizes its role first: it says that the House of the People consists of deputies who represent the people of the European Union. Other statement will be in the first paragraph of the first article about the House of  States (that it consists of deputies who represent the member states). The second part of the same article is then a sentence determining the maximum size of the House of the People. I determined the number at 567 deputies which I had written about in the first article devoted to the federal parliament.

The “lower” house should represent the people of the federation as a whole but in practice, this people is divided among the member states (or other territories) of the federation – therefore also the deputies representing the people of the federation have to be divided according to the member states (eventually other territories) of the federation. A rule must logically be valid at the same time – that the greater part of the people of the federation resides in the respective member state the greater number of deputies represents this part of the people. This principle is determined in the second paragraph. Apportion of adequate number of representatives among each state is another question. There will be great differences in their size among the member states in practice which will undoubtedly necessitate that very great or very small states will be disadvantaged. To prevent that very small states are too undervalued in their representation, it is necessary to grant them a certain minimal number of deputies as it is common in the present European parliament and other current parliaments. My suggestion is that in the House of the People, every state is represented at least by three deputies which is intended also for the Federal Region of Brussels. I expect moreover that the European federation will have something like federal territories outside the member states and I grant them the right to at least one deputy. (I will return to the topic of federal territories in a separate post because I realized that I forgot some important things concerning them in previous articles of the proposed constitution.) What mathematical method should be used to apportion the deputies among the member states (and other parts) of the European federation I am not able to say now, so I leave details to a separate law (but I believe that the now used principle of so called degressive proportionality should be preserved also in the future and that a general mathematical principle should be used, not a trade-like “ad hoc” political deal as in the EU today).

The third paragraph of my suggestion speaks about the way of election of deputies of the House of the People. I have again to leave details to a separate law, the constitution should determine only the most important principles. I take for obvious what all constitutions write, namely that the election should be based on universal, direct, secret suffrage. If the constitution allocates a certain number of deputies to each state (or other territory of the federation), a necessity results from it that every member state is also a separate electoral district. It is advantageous for the reason too that in such districts, citizens will have a possibility to know candidates which would not be possible in the case of a list of candidates made for one electoral district comprising the whole territory of the federation (present proposals to put something similar through for the election in the European parliament are unreasonable and cannot bring what federalists expect of). Actually, it is an almost obvious thing, there are (more than one) electoral districts for legislative body's election in almost all states of the world. One more rule must be present in the third paragraph of this constitutional article in my opinion; it is not common in constitutions of federations but concrete experiences with the present intergovernmental European Union require it. There are no unified common rules of suffrage in the European Parliament election at the present time. Every state determines its own rules, it has to respect only three basic general rules. It reflects that the present European alliance of states, though it is called a union, is in fact no union (to promote this word in the title of the European community by the federalists was not a reasonable idea, because thus a genuine meaning of this word loses in value). The present European Union is in short a community (or a club) of independent states and realization of election to its  parliament-like representative body mirrors the fact. But if a European federation should be one state and if I have written that the House of the People represents the people of the Union, it is not possible that different rules in relation to the common federal state are in force. Somebody can take it for obvious but I prefer – having experience with the present manner of election to the European parliament – to add a sentence to the third paragraph saying that election to the House of the People is held in all member states (and other territories of the federation) in the same time and by the same rules.

The fourth paragraph of my suggestion determines a period during which a deputy of the House of the People executes his mandate. A standard period in parliaments of most European states is four years and I do not see any reason to determine another term of a deputy's service for the House of the People.

The following two suggested paragraphs determine a minimal age of candidates and their voters. The first of them, the fifth paragraph, says that every citizen of the Union who has reached his eighteenth year of age has the right to vote to the House of the People. The following sixth paragraph then determines the minimal age for a possibility to be elected (= passive suffrage). I determined this age to 21 years because it is a frequent age limit for this type of election in many European states; I believe furthermore that the age for public offices should be higher then the age of active suffrage.

The last, seventh paragraph  comprises a provision which is normally not present in constitutions of states. It says that nobody is allowed to be elected a deputy of the House of the People more than twice. Because it occurs in practice that political parties place some persons in their lists of candidates again and again and it happens considering known behaviour of voters that some persons serve as deputies of a legislative body for a long continuous period but thus they become professional politicians who lose contact with reality and those which they should represent. This provision therefore should prevent it.

Now is the turn of the House of States. The structure of the suggested article devoted to it will be very similar to the previous one. Its first paragraph has again two parts, it determines the role of this chamber and its size. The role of the House of States should be to represent the member states as I have written above. I wrote also about the size of the House of States (in the post http://federal-constitution-of-europe.blogspot.cz/2012/06/form-of-parliamentary-body.html). I suggested three deputies for each state there and also gave reasons that I had chose this number in order that the “upper” chamber has not disproportionate size in comparison with the “lower” one. For if to adopt every law requires agreement of both chambers, disproportionately less votes would be sufficient in one chamber than in the other one, if the House of States is too small in comparison to the House of the People (but I admit that in reality, there are great differences between two chambers of some bicameral parliaments).

A provision about the number of deputies representing other territorial units than the member states is located in the second paragraph. The Federal Region of Brussels should in my opinion have equal position as the states, namely three deputies, federal territories then one deputy because – if they exist – they will be territories of small number of inhabitants. Again: I will write about these in a future, already mentioned article.

The third paragraph speaks about a method of election of deputies of the House of States. But now, it is not necessary to determine unified rules. The House of States should represent the member states (and other territories) of the federation and every state (etc.) is a separate unit that determines its own rules in internal matters. Therefore is my opinion that also a method how every individual state elects its deputies to the House of States should be reserved to its free deliberation. So elections of deputies of the House of States in fact will in some extent be similar to election of deputies to the present European parliament that also has not universally unified rules. I believe that even more freedom to decide about the method of election of their deputies to the House of States should be given to the member states of the future European federation in comparison to the present “euro-elections” and only two general rules should be in force: the deputies shall be elected by a method respecting the principle of public administration responsible to the people and all deputies of all states should be delegated at the same time. I leave details to a separate law again.

Then length of service of deputies of the House of States is a question. It should be equal or longer (or shorter) than the mandate of deputies of the “lower” chamber? In some bicameral parliaments, deputies of the upper chamber are elected for longer period of time than deputies of the lower chamber, in other parliaments however, their length of service is equal. I decided for the second possibility for the House of States because I had chosen a principle earlier that both chambers should have equal position – and in that case, there is no reason for longer term of service of deputies of the House of States.

The fifth paragraph of my proposal determines again the age limitation for deputies. I will not determine a lower limit for active suffrage because I wrote that to decide about election of its deputies will be a business of each member state (etc.). What remains is to determine the lowest possible age of a deputy of the House of States. I determine it again in 21 years as in the case of the House of the People. But it is necessary to add one more limitation: a deputy delegated by the respective state (or other territory) must be its citizen, otherwise the House of States as a body of representatives of the member states would have no sense.

The same provision as in the case of the article about the House of the People is in the suggested last paragraph: nobody is allowed to be elected to the House of States more than twice.

It is all what I wanted to write about the federal legislative body of the European federation. My next post will bring a proposal of the constitutional text related to this matter.