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INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE II: Federalism and Bicameralism. Readings: Lijphart 185-215 and Russell. Guiding Questions . What is federalism? Confederation ? Unitary System? When do states adopt federal institutions? What is bicameralism? Do second chambers matter?. Dispersing Authority.

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institutional structure ii federalism and bicameralism

INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE II: Federalism and Bicameralism


Lijphart 185-215 and Russell

guiding questions
Guiding Questions
  • What is federalism?
    • Confederation?
    • Unitary System?
  • When do states adopt federal institutions?
  • What is bicameralism?
  • Do second chambers matter?
dispersing authority
Dispersing Authority
  • Democracies vary in the extent to which they centralize political authority.
    • Critical for understanding the political logic of a system
  • Tradeoffs between empowering the center vs. empowering the regions.
    • Critical: regional autonomy can be used as a basis for further autonomy or independence.
      • Examples:
        • 1) Spanish government and Catalan/Basque nationalists.
        • 2) British government and Scottish/Welsh nationalists
  • Three different ways to disperse authority.
federal confederal and unitary systems
Federal, Confederal, and Unitary Systems
  • Unitary systems:
    • Political authority is vested within the central government.
      • Most European systems fall into this category
  • Confederation:
    • Political authority is vested within the subunits and central government is relatively weak.
      • Modern examples are rare
      • Switzerland sometimes referred to as a confederation
        • But this is debatable
  • Federalism:
    • Intermediate position between unitary systems and confederation.
      • Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina
        • European Union often seen as a “special case” of federalism
definition of federalism
Definition of Federalism
  • 1) State is divided between a central government and regional or sub national governments.
    • Typically, federalism is centered around a territorial component.
  • 2) Institutional powers are allocated between these levels of government.
    • Each unit is the “final arbiter” on certain issues.
  • 3) The levels possess at least some degree of autonomy from one another.
    • Neither level can unilaterally dissolve the other.
  • Example of a more consensual rather than a majoritarian political structure.
why federalism
Why Federalism?
  • Federalism typically attempts to reconcile social differences with a common national identity.
    • Often found in plural societies
      • Example: Belgium (linguistic communities), Switzerland (linguistic and religious divides).
  • Federalism often associated with large, diverse countries.
    • Examples: US (large vs. small state interests), Canada (Quebecois nationalism), etc.
  • Some exceptions
    • Germany
      • Neither large nor diverse
        • History of federalism is key
          • Modern German federalism aims to create uniform living standards across the Länder.
federalism and bicameralism
Federalism and Bicameralism
  • Bicameralism: legislative systems with two chambers.
    • Dividing legislative authority across two chambers typically seen as consensual rather than a majoritarian trait.
  • Federal systems are typically bicameral.
    • First chamber (lower chamber) represents the national population.
    • Second chamber (upper chamber) represents the subunits.
  • In parliamentary systems, a confidence relationship exists between the government and the first chamber.
    • With few exceptions, this relationship does not extend to the second chamber.
      • Italy is an exception.
functions of the second chamber
Functions of the Second Chamber
  • Russell 2001
  • 1) To represent an alternative set of interests than the first chamber.
    • Representation and redundancy aid policy refinement and protection of minority rights.
  • 2) To provide greater independence from political party influence in legislative scrutiny.
    • Congruence theoretically hinders legislative independence from central parties.
  • 3) Some act as a “veto player” within the parliamentary process.
    • Symmetry requires agreement by both chambers to pass legislation.
  • 4) Spread the legislative burden.
    • Limited agenda time makes an a second chamber a useful time saving device.
measuring second chamber influence
Measuring Second Chamber Influence



  • Second chambers generally represent a different set of interests than the first chamber.
    • Originally a class based distinction.
  • Often seek to protect the rights of states or minority groups within the system.
    • Linguistic communities in Belgium
    • Länder in Germany
  • Different selection mechanisms offer alternative viewpoints and less partisan viewpoint.
    • Typically indirectly elected or appointed.
    • Smaller composition allows for greater interpersonal relationships between legislators.
  • Many second chambers intentionally endowed the with certain policy areas of expertise.
    • Law Lords/Bishops in the UK
    • Human rights in France
measuring second chamber influence1
Measuring Second Chamber Influence



  • Ability to override the second chamber varies depending on the system.
  • Some chambers possess absolute veto authority.
    • This means that the agreement of the chamber is necessary for the passage of legislation.
  • Most second chambers possess suspensory veto authority
    • This means they can delay rather than defeat legislation.
  • The likelihood that the composition of the first and second chambers are similar.
  • In systems where the chambers are congruent, representation function may be compromised.
    • Similar chambers merely “duplicate” the work of the other.
  • Where chambers are incongruent, representation may be enhanced.
    • But, the second chamber may become a “second opposition.”
symmetric and incongruent german bundesrat
Symmetric and Incongruent: German Bundesrat
    • Symmetric and Incongruent
    • Absolute/strong veto authority on all legislation touching on the prerogatives of the states.
    • Legislation passed by two-thirds in the Bundesrat can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote in the Bundestag.
  • There are 69 votes in the Bundesrat.
    • Majority is 35.
      • Votes must be cast en bloc in accordance with state government instructions.
      • Abstentions count as a no vote; land coalitions which cannot agree on a common position abstain.
symmetric and incongruent german bundesrat1
Symmetric and Incongruent: German Bundesrat
    • Divided government occurs frequently
  • Seats are apportioned on the basis of population
    • Each Land receives between 3 and 6 votes.
  • Members are not directly elected
    • Appointed by Land governments
  • Land elections occur at four to five year intervals
    • Elections typically a referendum on current national government
    • Merkel government does not have a majority in the Bundesrat
      • Holds 25 votes and likely to lose more in upcoming elections.
asymmetric and incongruent uk house of lords
Asymmetric and Incongruent: UK House of Lords
    • Asymmetric and Incongruent
  • Plays a major role in refining legislation.
    • Provides representation for the Church of England.
    • Included the highest appeals court until Supreme Court created in 2009.
  • Debates tend to be less politically charged than in the House of Commons.
  • All bills must be passed by both chambers of parliament unless the government invokes the Parliament Acts.
asymmetric and incongruent uk house of lords1
Asymmetric and Incongruent: UK House of Lords
  • ASYMMETRIC: Veto authority removed by passage of the Parliament Acts
  • House of Lords maintained a strong/absolute veto over all legislation until 1911.
    • Absolute/strong vetoes: Defeat legislation outright.
    • Difficult to justify vetoing the legislation of an elected government.
  • Parliament Acts of 1911
    • Gave the Lords a suspensory veto of two years
    • Suspensory veto: Delays but does not directly defeat legislation.
  • Parliament Acts of 1949
    • Reduced this suspensory veto to one year.
  • Parliament Acts do not apply to bills that:
    • 1) Are initiated in the House of Lords
    • 2) Extend the life of the current Parliament
    • 3) Are considered “statutory instruments/delegated legislation”
  • Process takes a lot of time.
    • Only used four times since 1949
asymmetric and incongruent uk house of lords2
Asymmetric and Incongruent: UK House of Lords
  • INCONGRUENT: No party has a majority in the House of Lords.
    • Many peers do not affiliate with any party.
  • 25 Bishops
    • Serve until 75.
  • 92 Hereditary peers
    • Holdovers from the House of Lords Act of 1999 which removed automatic right for hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Lords.
    • Elected by hereditary peers previously entitled to a seat under the old laws.
  • 23 Law Lords
    • Holdovers from previous system
    • New Law Lords sit the Supreme Court and will not take a peerage until they retire.
  • 686 Life peers
    • Appointed by PM or Commission.
    • Number is not fixed
  • Hereditary and life peers serve for life.
    • Cannot be removed save for bankruptcy.
asymmetric and incongruent uk house of lords3
Asymmetric and Incongruent: UK House of Lords
  • Salisbury Doctrine historically shaped debate within the chamber.
    • Lords will typically not defeat legislation listed in a governing party’s manifesto.
      • Although this doctrine has weakened following the removal of hereditary peers.
  • Governments are defeated much more frequently in the Lords than in the Commons.
    • The confidence relationship does not extend into the Lords.
    • Defeat on a major piece of legislation does not imply a loss of confidence.
      • But it does mean that the government has to either: concede to the Lords, spend time overriding the Lords, or drop the bill.
  • Despite lack of strong/absolute veto authority the Lords still shapes outcomes
    • Expertise and suspensory veto authority give weight to the second chamber.
asymmetric and congruent irish seanad
Asymmetric and Congruent: Irish Seanad
    • Asymmetric and Congruent
    • Seanad can delay legislation for six months.
    • Has only defeated the government a handful of times since its creation.
asymmetric and congruent irish seanad1
Asymmetric and Congruent: Irish Seanad
  • CONGRUENT: Composition tends to mirror that of the Dáil.
  • Elections take place after elections for the Dáil.
    • Vocational boards: 43
      • 5 boards consisting of TD’s, Senators and local councilors.
      • Nomination and election controlled by parties.
    • University seats: 6
      • Directly elected by graduates of National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin
        • Typically independent
    • Taoiseach nominees: 11
      • Typically members of his/her own party to ensure a government majority.
  • Most senators seek to return to the Dáil, thus central parties have a great deal of influence over their votes.
    • Senators wanting to be nominated to contest a Dáil do not want to anger their party,.
    • Independent senators have used their positions to advocate issues that major parties will not touch.
      • Example: Sen. Norris on civil unions.
conclusions second chamber reform
Conclusions: Second Chamber Reform
  • Several systems are debating second chamber reform.
    • Balancing legislative authority is a key factor in these debates.
      • Germany: rebalance the authority of the Bundestag with that of the Bundesrat
      • United Kingdom: hereditary peers removed but questions over how peers should be elected.
      • Ireland: questions over the relevance of the chamber have led to calls to boost its influence over European legislation or abolish the chamber altogether
  • Old issue of debate taking place in a different constitutional setting.
    • The idea of abolition is a non-starter in most systems
      • Referendum due in Ireland on this issue.
      • Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland abolished their second chambers.
        • But these were special cases of bicameralism
    • Increasing veto authority is not an option.
      • Governments do not want to risk more defeats.
  • Greater reliance on second chambers increases their bargaining authority regardless of veto strength.
    • Expertise in the second chamber also a valuable commodity for governments.
      • But whether or not this would be protected if chambers were directly elected is debatable.
next unit
Next Unit
  • Institutional Structure: Majoritarian vs. Consensus Politics
    • Reading: Lijphart 9-21, 31-47, 243-309
        • 1) Effects on economic policy.
        • 2) Effects on social policy.
        • 3) Patterns of change within systems.