Responsibilities of the Senate

The Senate acquires a specific function

The Senate is the reflection chamber.
The Senate works on important legislative and constitutional reforms.
In addition, the Senate is responsible for settling conflicts of interests between the different federal institutions.

Full bicameral system

For the basic federal legislation, the Chamber of representatives and the Senate are on an equal footing.
This means that a bill can only be adopted when both houses of Parliament agree on the same text.

This rule applies to :

  1. the preparatory proceedings to a revision of the Constitution (= a prior declaration designating the articles which may be amended) and the revision of the Constitution itself.
  2. the laws to be adopted by a special majority vote and laws concerning the structure and the fundamental interests of the State such as :
    • the law to establish a consultation committee between Chamber of representatives and Senate
    • the law which divides the Members of Parliament into linguistic groups
    • laws concerning the electoral system
    • laws concerning the responsibilities, the composition and the functioning of the regional councils and the community councils and governments
    • laws concerning the Court of Arbitration (*)
    • the law to prevent discrimination on ideological or philosophical grounds
  3. laws concerning Belgian international relations such as :
    • laws concerning the transfer of responsibilities to international institutions such as the European Union or NATO
    • laws ensuring compliance with international or supranational commitments
    • laws concerning the approval of international treaties, for which the bill always goes to the Senate first.
  4. laws concerning the Council of State (**)
  5. laws concerning the organization of the courts and tribunals
  6. laws concerning the adoption of cooperation agreements between the federal State, the communities and the regions
  7. all laws which could be added to the above list by the means of a specific special majority law.

When considering matters concerning the monarchy (***), the Chamber of representatives and the Senate convene as United Chambers.

Conflicts of interest

The Senate addresses conflicts of interest.

When a legislative assembly considers that it could be severely prejudiced by a bill or draft law put forward in another legislative assembly, the Senate may be called upon to resolve the dispute through consultation.

Should the Senate fail to resolve the dispute, the case is referred to a consultation committee at government level.

Subdued bicameral system

As regards "ordinary" lawmaking (****), the Senate's authority is limited.

Although the Senators have a right to initiative (= the right to put forward a bill), the draft laws (= of the government) are always presented to the Chamber of representatives.

Immediately after its adoption by the Chamber, the bill is sent to the Senate.

If at least 15 senators, within 15 days, request it (= right to evocation), the bill will be reviewed by the Senate.

Within 60 days the bill can be amended and be sent back to the Chamber.

If the Senate rejects the bill, the text which was sent to the Chamber will be considered not to have been amended.

The Chamber has the final word.

It decides whether or not to accept the amendments which were adopted (= voted) by the Senate.

If the Chamber adds new amendments, the Senate may again review the bill and possibly add new amendments.

Then too, the Chamber has the final word.

Right to control

Although the Senate cannot attach any political sanctions to its actions, it does play a politically significant role.

Members may put written and oral questions to the federal government as well as demands for explanation (= elaborate questions can lead to a debate and the acceptance of a motion).

In order to properly fulfil its mandate, the Senate needs to be appropriately informed by the federal Government.

Furthermore, the Senate has a right to conduct enquiries with the same powers as an examining magistrate.

Appointments

Lists of candidates for the offices of councillor in the "Court de Cassation" (High Court), member of the Council of State or judge in the Court of Arbitration are presented alternately by the Chamber of representatives and the Senate.


* Court of Arbitration = court which, amongst other things, determines whether the federal authority, a region or a community may be making decisions in conflict with its authority. (to be associated with a Constitutional Court)

** Council of State = court which advises on bills, draft laws and draft decrees to prevent judicial contention and conflicts of authority. The Council of State also judges as High Court in administrative disputes between a citizen and the authority

*** The King takes the constitutional oath before the United Chambers (= all representatives and senators together)

**** "Ordinary" legislation = all legislation, except legislation for which the Chamber of representatives has exclusive authority and except legislation for which the Chamber and the Senate have equal authority (for the Constitution and the basic institutional legislation)




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