The other point of view of the debate at La Croix

The French newspaper La Croix has recently published two pieces under the title “Of what use is the senate?”. A translation of one of those pieces is here. Below is a translation of the opposing view.

Jean-Philippe Derosier: “The senate is in the DNA of our institutions”

Jean-Philippe Derosier is a professor of public law at Lille 2 university and the author of the blog “The constitution decoded”.

Personally, I do not dispute the utility of the senate, even if some changes could surely be considered. There are three reasons for the utility of a second chamber. First of all, a logical reason. The parliament represents the nation, and the nation is the people but also something else. The people are represented by the assembly and other thing, in our system, is the regions (territories). In countries which made the choice of bicameralism, this other thing can be different, for example in England the history of the British nobility is incarnated in the House of Lords, or the civil society in Ireland.

The second reason is biological: there are always more ideas in two heads than in one and the second chamber completes the role of the first through a permanent dialog instituted between the two assemblies.

The third is chronological: the back-and-forth between the two chambers allows to take the time for reflection, and taking time is a good thing in a democracy. There exists today a common notion that legislature has to be immediate and that the senate contributes to slowing down legislation. In fact, to the contrary, it nourishes the parliamentary work, enriching it and allowing a form of necessary maturation in the legislative work. It is an error to think that the law should be made with urgency. Today constitutional reform projects aim to reduce the number of senators, to eliminate the back-and-forth and to enforce non-overlap of a senate office with local office. The institution of a single reading per chamber basically just aligns the law with existing practice because the accelerated procedure has been applied for most bills over the last few years. As for non-overlap and the reduction in the number of parliamentarians, which go together, it is quite a good thing because that will lead to having few parliamentarians but ones who work at it full time.

Some argue, however, for a citizen representation. In my opinion, that is a demagogic and insidious idea. Demagogic because they would have us believe that citizens can do things that they cannot do. As much as I believe in the real use of citizen participation, a citizen senate will be merely an instance of representation rather than of a legislature. And insidious because it retries to do what De Gaulle failed to do in 1969, that is to eliminate the senate. In fact, the French have twice turned down this idea, in 1946 and in 1969. Since the revolution France has had a unicameral system for ten years in total. That is to say that the senate is in the DNA of our institutions.

Compiled by Céline Rouden, Sept. 22, 2017

One Response

  1. Pretty summary kind of argument. Pretty unpersuasive.

    Liked by 1 person

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