13 Jun 2019, 09.15
The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Denis O’Donovan is attending the annual meeting of the Association of European Senates in France, today and tomorrow.
The meeting, which is being hosted in Paris, by the French Senate will focus on two topics:
• A dialogue between European and African second chambers, and
• A debate on theme “Bicameralism: an asset for democracy”.
The Cathaoirleach, Senator Denis O’Donovan said the composition of Senates in Europe may differ and the mode of election of Senators may vary but all contribute to institutional “checks and balances”.
Senates are described as a “trump card” “in solving the problems of our days” in a in a joint statement, hereunder, issued by members of the Association in advance of the meeting.
The Association said a proper response, to current challenges, like terrorism, economic and social difficulties or “the tyranny of immediacy fostered by New Medias and social networks” is needed or “the very existence of democracies will be at risk.”
The meeting marks the first time in the 19 year history of the Association that it will open a dialogue with African Senates. It hopes this deeper co-operation and dialogue will lead to new solutions to challenges like climate change and the migration crisis.
Cathaoirleach Senator O’Donovan said: “Seanad Éireann was accepted as a member of the Association at its meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in 2018.
“The Association, which was founded in 2000, aims for the development of relationships between members, promotion of bicameralism in the framework of parliamentary democracy, and strengthening of European identity and awareness.”
The Association comprises 14 second chambers in the European Union and the Senates of Bosnia, the Russian Federation and Switzerland.
Senates in Europe provide checks and balances and stand for territories
Senates in Europe differ in their composition but they all have in common the improvement of democratic representation of nations boasting a second chamber. The mode of election of Senators varies from one country to the other. In some countries, the role of Senators is to stand for territories and intermediary bodies in civil society and in others they stand for trade industry and work force. In other countries, because they are elected by a majority vote, Senators help secure the stability of governments.
They also contribute to a closer relationship with citizens, local authorities and all players of civil society. Second chambers enable territories which are essential to social cohesion to have a say. Senates thanks to the diversity of their members and mode of election are in direct contact with real life as it is lived daily by citizens.
Senates are a bulwark against concentrating powers and governments’ tendency to re centralize and they are part of the checks and balances in the political decision-making process. Senates take part in providing our societies with proper national, territorial, economic and social cohesion. The idea is not to oppose central and local power but to aim at constantly designing and building the necessary additional policies which will help our citizens to live together in spite of our divided societies.
The very DNA of Senates is their greater spirit of independence. Another aspect of it is their role as moderators. MPs, members of the first chambers are supposed to organize the debate necessary to make the law and control the government following the dividing pattern proper to all parliamentary democracies: supporting or opposing the government’s action. Accordingly MPs are prone to stick to party discipline as enforced by the whips.
Senators are more easily intent on proposing and pondering; though perfectly aware of current challenges, they will more easily contemplate far-reaching perspectives because they will be able to keep current impulses at bay. Bicameralism perfectly embodies the necessary complementarity which improves control over the government’s action. Senates thus contribute to the institutional checks and balances with an eye on good quality lawmaking and maintaining the Rule of Law and the fundamental rights.
Senates in Europe have decided to gather and stick together around these principles.
The Association of the Senates in Europe was created in 2000 and aims to promote bicameralism. The Association is made of 14 second chambers in the European Union and of the Senates of Bosnia, the Russian Federation and Switzerland.
Nowadays, the inadequacy of responses to current challenges such as degraded environment, economic and social difficulties, terrorism, migrations, European security facing exterior threats, and the tyranny of immediacy fostered by new Medias and social networks are the many causes which led to estrange citizens from their representatives. If we don’t offer a proper response, the very existence of our democracies will be at risk. We all know that democracies are fragile.
This is the challenge facing parliamentary diplomacy and this is the declared ambition of the chairs of all the European Senates who will meet in Paris next June.
As such, it is our duty and our responsibility:
to help – for at least 14 among our members – bring closer the EU and the citizens and make its action more efficient and better understood.
Parliamentary diplomacy - as it is doing already but insufficiently - can play a positive role in fostering dialogue between countries and bringing people together.
We shall soon have important elections in Europe whose outcome will shape the future of our continent as it is shaken by a severe crisis due to the general suspicion which by degrees gained momentum and weakened the European ideal.
Suspicion has replaced hope in Europe
For the first time in the history of our association, we are going to open a dialogue with African Senates. On this occasion we shall again affirm our intention to reinforce the cooperation between European and African parliaments.
Thanks to deeper cooperation and dialogue with the African continent we will be able to design new solutions to the challenges of development and climate change as well as to ethnic and religious conflicts, demographic explosion and the migration crisis which depletes the African continent of the very human resources it will need to face the future.
Europe is facing major challenges in its neighbourhood both southern and eastern. In order to make the European Union closer to citizens, these issues should be efficiently addressed at the European level keeping in mind the necessity of preserving European unity and avoiding rifts between North and South or East and West. National parliaments and Senates particularly have here an important role to play.
Bicameralism is a trump card which can be played to solve the problems of our days and this is the motto of the Assembly of the European Senates which will meet in Paris in June.