The Belgian Senate: little damage, little use

From a Belgian point of view, even after the deepest reform the Senate has known (2011-2014), the issue of the Senate reform has never really been bicameralism per se. When political parties talked about Senate reform they had less bicameralism as such in mind but saving public expenditures. That being said, we may not totally reject an attempt to reduce the federal character of the country. Indeed, we may hypothesise that some political parties try to target a symbol of the – still young – Belgian federal organisation.

In a federative system, the second chamber usually represents the States while the first chamber represents the people of the country (with only few exceptions to the rule). Therefore not only the composition but also – especially – the designation system has to be different. That is almost the only way to ensure a different composition. Since the 6th State Reform (i.e. a major reform of the Constitution and new constitutional laws), implemented since July 2014, Belgian Senators are not elected anymore, but designated for the main part (50/60) by the federated entities or coopted (10/60) according the results of the Chamber’s election. This arithmetical arrangement constitutes an element of a broader compromise (the splitting of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency). It allows taking into account ‘lost ballots’ (especially votes from French-speaking voters around Brussels to French-speaking parties and that were insufficient to give right to a seat) and therefore giving value to what could have been a pointless vote.

Of course, before raising the question of performing tasks, we should scrutinise their types, their scope and their impact on policies. Regarding the Belgian case, since the 6th State Reform the Senate’s competences have been considerably reduced. The Senate has become a meeting place between the federal and the federated authorities ...

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