Forum of the World's Senates
Meeting of the Senates of the World
CHAIRMANSHIP OF MR. JEAN-CLAUDE GAUDIN
Vice-President of the French Senate
The session started again at 15.05
Mrs Anna-Elisabeth HASELBACH, President of the Federal Council of Austria - I warmly thank the Senate of the French Republic for its invitation and its hospitality. For all of us who daily face social realities, the possibility of exchanging experiences is an important event. We need to reflect on how our democratic institutions can best meet people's expectations.
I should like to raise a subject that we have barely touched on hitherto, namely relations between the government and parliament with regard to international matters, treaties and supranational laws. These international legal instruments are decided and negotiated by governments. Parliaments have little more to do than ratify them. This is a significant shortcoming: as parliamentarians, we should be thinking about ways of remedying it. The need is all the more acute because with the spread of globalisation, people are increasingly demanding a part in the decision-taking process.
Within the European Union, national parliaments are able to put their point of view. The Austrian Bundesrat has set up a commission for Community affairs, an autonomous body whose decisions do not have to be approved in full session. As the federal government has to submit European Union legislation to both houses of parliament, our specialised commission means that a rapid response can be given to the executive. In addition, because the executive and legislative arms are better informed about each other's positions, we are now better placed to influence decisions.
I hope that this modest example and these few suggestions will be helpful and can be implemented in your own parliaments, in the general interest. (Applause)
Mr. Nicola MANCINO, President of the Senate of Italy - I thank the President of the Senate of the French Republic for his invitation to this interesting meeting. My remarks will concern both bicameralism as a system and the experiences that we have been exchanging since this morning.
I come from a country where equal bicameralism is a feature of the political system: no function is entrusted exclusively to a single chamber. The system has remained unchanged since 1948, despite the crises it has experienced. The two chambers coexist and, with draft legislation passing to and fro between them, they can ensure that the legislative process is conducted under optimum conditions.
A certain number of ordinary laws, albeit with constitutional implications, have been adopted, amplifying our country's federal dimension. Responsibilities and powers have been transferred from central government to local authorities: provinces, communes and regions. Mayors and provincial presidents, since 1990, and regional presidents, since April 1999, are elected directly by the electorate. Whereas under the previous system parliament was pre-eminent in constitutional matters, now a presidential system exists in many local authorities which is capable of rivalling the parliamentary system.
With the completion of these reforms, the problem of bicameralism arises at a different level. Although no-one disputes the role of the Senate , the question is how a revised bicameral system can take account of new local realities and the growing assertion of a federal system. Can the Senate continue to function as it used to? Shouldn't a distinction be made between laws that have to go through a bicameral system, because they affect the Constitution, the electoral system or human rights, and those for which a bicameral procedure is no longer necessary? What functions should be allocated to which chamber? That is the new central issue facing constitutional doctrine.
I should also like to raise an issue of more general scope. The current political system, in Italy and elsewhere, used to bear a distinctly ideological cast which it has recently lost. Now, political parties no longer have an exclusive claim to represent the interests of the nation. Other bodies fulfil that function, such as local authorities, regional institutions and organisations within civil society that exist outside party-political structures. Upper chambers have a new role in this context, that of political integration, in order to enhance democracy. We have to accept the idea that politics and parties no longer have a monopoly on representing citizens.
I should like to draw attention to another aspect that may pose a problem. Provincial presidents and mayors are, as I have said, elected by direct universal suffrage. But Parliament retains the power to bestow its confidence on the Prime Minister or withhold it from him. A conflict may therefore arise between the legitimacy derived from universal suffrage and the legitimacy conferred by parliamentary investiture.
I thank President Poncelet for this meeting. We can go away satisfied that we have contributed to the discussion on a political system, bicameralism, which is continuing to spread, whatever people may have thought in the 1960s and 70s. (Applause)
Mr. Oralbai ABDYKARIMOV, President of the Senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan - First, I should like to thank the President of the Senate for organising this splendid event.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Kazakhstan, in its post-totalitarian period, endeavoured to renew its political institutions. Now, the Republic of Kazakhstan is a unitarian state with a presidential system. Legislative power is vested in Parliament, which is the vehicle for political representation in the country. Drawing on the experience of countries with a parliamentary tradition, especially France, for the first time in 1995 Kazakhstan elected a bicameral Parliament with two chambers, the Senate and the Majilis. The members of the Senate are elected from local assemblies, while members of the Majilis are elected in territorial constituencies for one term of office in a list-based poll.
Our experience of bicameralism has been positive, since the system has helped to democratise the legislative process and has improved the quality of our laws, even though some still query its usefulness. Under the Constitution it is possible for both chambers to sit either in joint session or separately. At plenary sessions of the Senate and the Majilis, the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan considers the most serious issues of public life. It amends the Constitution, approves constitutional laws, adopts the budget, approves the President's nomination of the Prime Minister, declares war and decides on the use of the armed forces to keep the peace and on operations carried out under the aegis of international organisations.
One feature of Kazakhstan's bicameral system is the consecutive scrutiny of draft legislation by the Majilis and the Senate. Any differences of opinion between the two chambers are resolved by specific conciliation procedures. The exclusive responsibilities of each chamber are clearly defined, thus contributing to political stability. Each chamber has the last word within the limits of its respective powers, ensuring the overall balance of the system.
There is one other noteworthy feature. Members of the Majilis are elected for five years, and at the end of their mandate the entire Assembly is subject to re-election. In contrast, half of the Senate is renewed every three years, giving a guarantee of continuity and stability. A bill adopted by the Majilis does not become law until it has been approved by the Senate.
The specific responsibilities of the chambers and the conciliation procedures contribute to stability within the Parliament and hence in the whole of society, which is very important for countries in transition. (Applause)
Mrs Maria MORENO URIEGAS, President of the Senate of the United States of Mexico - I should like to thank President Poncelet most particularly for his excellent initiative in enabling us to share our experiences of bicameralism today. Bicameralism is an integral part of Mexico's history, since the indigenous peoples of the pre-Hispanic period already had a second chamber. When Mexico became independent in 1824 it established a Senate, which has since been suspended only for a period of eighteen years when the country was discussing the choice between a unitary and a federal state. A federal system ultimately proved to be the most appropriate one, since when the Senate's function has been to ensure the territorial representation of the country. The second chamber has become a symbol of the nation's unity, contributing to its cohesion, since it gives equal representation to the 31 territorial units that comprise the United States of Mexico, whatever their population or wealth.
The political system in Mexico has been strengthened as a result: the Senate provides the foundation for a much stronger political organisation since it guarantees the federal pact.
The Senate of the Republic has exclusive competence in foreign policy, the exercise of national sovereignty and cooperation with other countries. It ratifies international treaties and the nomination of ambassadors, consuls and senior finance officials. Another important function is that of scrutiny over the executive branch. Very recently it acquired the capacity to nominate the President of the Consultative Council and the Human Rights Commission and the members of the Supreme Court.
Concerning relations with other countries, the Senate approves or refuses to approve mobilisation of the armed forces. The free trade treaty with the European Union will be debated in the Mexican Senate next week and is likely to be approved on 22 March. We regard this as an important step towards the diversification of our country's political, economic and commercial relations, beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The Senate also has the same functions as the Chamber of Deputies. Like the Chamber of Deputies, it can propose legislation. The Chamber of Deputies has exclusive power only in budget matters.
Three senators represent each State and the federal district, two from the majority parties and one from the minority parties. All Senators are elected for a six-year term of office. Advances in electoral democracy have favoured pluralism in political representation. The Institutional Revolutionary Party has not had an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies for several years now, even if it has kept an absolute majority in the Senate. The Senate therefore plays an essential role in maintaining political stability. It tempers decisions that the Chamber of Deputies may have made overhastily or without achieving sufficient consensus. It reconciles the interests of the government with those of the deputies through constant negotiations between the two chambers and the executive.
In our country the bicameral system has helped to enhance our legislation, and it should be promoted around the world. Not surprisingly, many countries are moving along these lines. The advance of democracy will go hand in hand with the strengthening of Senates throughout the world. (Applause)
Mr. Mostafa Kamal HELMY, President of the Consultative Assembly in Egypt - On behalf of the Shoura Assembly, it is a pleasure for me to address you and to present my best wishes to you and your peoples. We have come to this gathering to exchange our points of view, share our experience of different bicameral systems and identify what needs to be done to enrich the democratic experience in the third millennium.
In Egypt, we have been aware of the advantages of enhancing parliamentary processes since 1866, with the creation of the Shoura Consultative Council, the first parliamentary institution in the region. After the foreign invasion of 1882, the people continued their struggle to win national independence and political freedom. Under the 1923 Constitution, Egypt adopted a bicameral system that was abolished after the 1952 revolution. A revision of the Constitution in 1981 restored the bicameral system, which now comprises the People's Assembly and the Shoura Assembly.
The Shoura Assembly is a representative parliamentary assembly with legislative powers. Its 264 members include representatives of six political parties and 57 academics from different areas of specialisation, representing the various social categories, women (15), intellectuals and the media. In accordance with the Consitution, it guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens, without distinction as to sex, creed or religion.
In addition to its contribution to the legislative process, the Shoura Assembly has also debated a number of important issues.
The first of these is the Middle East peace process. Egypt, after the glorious victory of October 1973 and the recovery of its national territory, took the initiative in concluding peace treaties. Under President Mubarak, it intends to work for peace in the region on the basis of international legitimacy, treaties and resolutions concluded according to the principle of land for peace and the peoples' right of self-determination. That is why we condemn the aggressions perpetrated by Israel, as was recently the case in Lebanon. The situation, already dangerous, was aggravated by the statements of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. David Levy, threatening to set Lebanon on fire. To achieve a just peace in the region, the Golan Heights and South Lebanon must be evacuated and the Palestinians' right to self-determination must be acknowledged.
The second problem is that of eliminating weapons of mass destruction. The Israeli nuclear arsenal is a threat to peace and security in the region. That is why in 1990 President Mubarak took the initiative of asking for the Middle East to be declared a region free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The third is combating terrorism as a world phenomenon. International security and stability are threated by terrorism, which is not the preserve of any single doctrine or people or nation. President Mubarak has called for an international conference under the aegis of the United Nations to combat this scourge.
The fourth subject of concern to the Senate is the impact of globalisation and World Trade Organisation agreements on international trade. International rules have to strike a balance between industrial countries and developing countries while respecting the latter's sovereignty. It is not in the interests of the international community to increase the burden on them or to widen the gap that separates them from the industrialised nations.
The fifth subject concerns the controls that should be applied to scientific and technological progress. However much we admire such advances and their applications in information technology, medicine, industry and agriculture, codes and laws are needed to ensure that research is properly monitored and that ethical rules are adhered to.
The sixth issue is that of the interaction of civilisations, which must not turn into conflict. All civilisations share a common aspiration to progress and the good of mankind. Egypt is a model of cultural integration, from Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic to modern civilisation.
With the communication revolution, it is more than ever in the public interest to carry out studies of this interaction between civilisations. We therefore deplore all the more keenly the ethnic conflicts that have flared up in certain countries, especially Kosovo and Chechnya, causing thousands of civilian casualties.
Our peoples aspire to peace, security and progress, to cooperation in the respect of human rights. Great responsibility in these matters lies with the world's parliaments: the Senates will continue to make their contribution. (Applause)
Mr. Frederik KORTHALS ALTES, President of the First Chamber of the States General of the Netherlands - I join the other speakers who have expressed their thanks to the French Senate and its President: the holding of this Forum demonstrates the importance of a plural parliament for democracy!
On 18 January, the Dutch Minister of the Interior put various options to the two Chambers with a view to amending the powers of the Senate, a fact which underlines the importance of this Forum for the Dutch delegation.
The Netherlands owes the existence of its Senate to the brief period during which the northern and southern Low Countries (Belgium) were united in accordance with the decisions of the Congress of Vienna. The Belgian aristocracy insisted on creating a Senate in order to limit the powers of the King. Since 1848, Dutch senators have been elected by the regional councils. The Netherlands is a unitarian country: contrary to the system in a federal country, our Senate does not therefore represent federated states. Under our constitution, the two Chambers jointly represent the whole of the Dutch people.
The Chamber of Deputies is made up of full-time politicians. In contrast, the Senate is made up of men and women who continue to exercise their activity in society. Their job is to give a second reading to draft legislation, focusing in particular on compliance with the constitution, consistency with international treaties and existing legislation, and applicability. The Senators, drawn from scientific, academic, political, economic and trade union circles, seek consensus, as is customary in our country - what is known as the Dutch model, or the "polder model". (Smiles) The Dutch Senate includes nine former ministers as well as eminent representatives of the scientific community, some of whom are members of the Royal Academy of Sciences which had the honour of welcoming President Chirac two weeks ago.
The Dutch Senate has limited powers: it has no right of amendment and no right to initiate legislation. It can only adopt or reject a law. However, it rarely uses this right of veto. Most of the time, the Senators require the minister to give certain commitments regarding implementation of the law. Sometimes, the Senate may even demand an additional measure or, in extreme cases, amend legislation. However, they generally exercise restraint because all conflict with the Chamber of Deputies must be avoided, the Constitution being mute on the subject.
This limitation of powers is not without an advantage, that of the need to reach consensus over and above party-political divisions. The Senate cannot bring all its influence to bear unless it speaks with a single voice: "union is strength", as the Belgian motto says. But above all, the great advantage of the Dutch Senate is the quality of its members. (Applause)
Mr. Armand DE DECKER, President of the Belgian Senate - I am delighted to be following my excellent colleague and friend Korthals Altes. He has reminded us that Belgium was the one to impose a Senate in the Netherlands, which shows how useful our fifteen years of shared existence were between 1815 and 1830 !(smiles)
The regulatory function in our societies is undergoing a crisis in both quality and quantity. The quantitative aspect is related to the proliferation of laws due to the growing complexity of our world. The qualitative aspect concerns the actual content of the laws : some are drafted hastily, which does nothing for their clarity ; others are constantly being amended, and finally others are forgotten and nobody remembers to repeal them. And yet, no-one can plead ignorance of the law.
In Belgium, two readings of a bill are often seen as the best way of improving the text of a law. Yet two readings of all bills without exception is increasingly considered a waste of time and ressources. It is this view that has led to reform of the Belgian bicameral system. Only laws on essential matters such as institutional organisation, justice, and international treaties, are still given two readings. Ordinary bills, if not introduced in the Senate, are only examined by the Senate if a minimum number of Senators request it. This is their right of evocation (to call in a bill for more thorough examination). As for the governmental scrutiny, this is reserved solely for the Chamber of Representatives, which has thus become the political chamber par excellence. By making judicious use of its right of evocation, the Senate can devote itself to more complex tasks which require deeper analysis, such as updating of legislation. The Belgian Senate now plays its role as a deliberative body to the full.
The Belgian Senate has decided to pay particular attention to the quality of legislation. A good law is defined not only by the quality of its wording or by the fact that it meets the requirements of legal certainty. The legislator must ensure that the law meets its goals and that there is no other, less constraining means of attaining them. Moreover, the increased intervention of the public authorities means that law must be effective. Some standing committees already carry out such assessments, although not yet systematically enough. In its capacity as the deliberative chamber, the Belgian Senate has therefore decided to make legislative assessment a statutory requirement. It is to create an ad hoc department for ex ante and ex post assessment of laws. Since this assessment involves a degree of political timing, it will remain the sole prerogative of the Senators. Before taking this decision, the Belgian Senate has taken the precaution of consulting the other players in public life : the Chamber of Representatives, the Government, the Court of Arbitration, the Court of Cassation, the Audit Commission, and the College of Public Prosecutors, who are in the best position to identify defects in existing laws and who often give precious pointers for improvement in their decisions and judgements.
The Belgian Senate, which has passed many laws over the past 170 years, has decided to simplify the laws by " de-legislating ", if the French Academy will allow me such a neologism.
Bicameralism is indispensable in federal States if representation of federated entities is to be ensured. It is the same in States with an electoral system by majority vote, where the monolithic nature of the assemblies of deputies needs to be counterbalanced. In every country, it is the prerequisite for high quality legislation, and it symbolises the need for greater democracy to curb the overweening demands of governments.
I thank the French Senate and its President for taking the initiative of organising this meeting, and hope that others will follow it. (applause)
Lord Geoffrey TORDOFF, Chairman of the Commission for European Affairs, House of Lords - The House of Lords has been presented as entirely different from all other assemblies : it is not at all democratic, it is true, but it is not ashamed of it. Although at one time one had to bribe the King to become a member, or even, if you were poor, lend him your wife, that is no longer the case and the House of Lords is undergoing reform. Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister, once said that the reform of the House of Lords could wait no longer. That was in 1910 (laughter).
If I may give one piece of advice to anyone creating a second chamber, it is this : do not follow the example of the House of Lords. Nevertheless, it does have its uses. The commission I chair has the task of checking European legislation, which it accomplishes with great skill, for we know how to recruit the best experts. In addition to our 70 members, there is also a scientific committee and a committee of experts. Its opinions concern the entire Parliament.
We are contemplating setting up a committee for human rights, to ensure that each new bill introduced in Parliament is in conformity with these rights, and the European Convention in particular. We have created an ad hoc committee to assess the initiatives of the Bank of England, especially as regards interest rates. That is possible because many Lords are former bankers or former Chancellors of the Exchequer, that is to say men and women with experience outside politics.
We have set out on the path of reform. The number of hereditary peers is to be cut.
There are many talented members in the House of Lords. When we give an opinion on a European Directive on water, for instance, we can base our comments on the report of an expert chemist. Then it is for the Government and the House of Commons to take their responsibilities. We hold a mirror up to them: if they pay no heed, then all the worse for them !
The House of Lords has representatives drawn from all the political parties and from civil society. Its only weapon is persuasion.
This system is doubtless somewhat curious, and I would not recommend it to anyone, but it is ours and I assure you we are going to improve it. (applause).
CHAIRMANSHIP OF Mr. CHRISTIAN PONCELET
President of the Senate of the French Republic
Mr. Chuba OKADIGBO, President of the Nigerian Senate - I thank the President of the French Senate for the extraordinary opportunity he has given us to exchange our views.
Nigeria has had a difficult history with alternating civil and military governments. During the democratic periods, the bicameral system was always in the Constitution. Since 1957, the date at which it became independent, Nigeria has adopted a fundamental law similar to that of the united States, characterised by a federal organisation and a presidential regime in which the Senate plays a very important role. Each federal State and the capital elects three senators by direct suffrage. The Chamber of Representatives has 360 members, elected proportionally to the population of the various States. The Senate has more power than the lower chamber, whether in nominating ambassadors, high officials, ministers, or chairmen of some state organisations. Moreover, it can review the legislation of the federal States and exercise control over their budgets. There are 53 specialised commissions and supervises the ministries.
After the military depredations, Nigeria wishes to strengthen democracy. Corruption has wrought havoc in our country as well as in others in the third world. Funds have left the country illegally. We were pillaged, and it is difficult for us to repay our foreign debt. The European and American banks who want to force us to repay are often the very banks to which the illicit funds have gone. I am grateful to the French government for its help in getting a moratorium on our foreign debt, and in persuading the other members of the G7. I also wish to thank the President of the French Senate for having allowed me to bring up this important and delicate question, and ask him to help me to persuade governments to cancel our debt. (applause)
Mrs. Katica IVANISEVIC, President of the Chamber of Districts of Croatia - I extend a warm greeting to all the participants in this meeting and congratulate the President of the French Senate for his excellent organisation. It is an honour to speak before so many people.
Croatia has had a parliament since the twelfth century, but the upper chamber, or Chamber of Districts, was only created by the Constitution in 1993. I have been president for two terms of office. The electors in the 21 Croatian constituencies elect three representatives per district by direct universal suffrage. The President of the Republic nominates five more members and is himself a life member after his term of office, except if he waives his right. The members of both chambers of the Croatian parliament are elected for four years.
The Chamber of Districts takes an active part in the legislative process, especially in drawing up laws on the electoral system, national law, and the operation of public and local government institutions. It has a suspensive veto which allows it to send a bill back to the Chamber of Deputies for further discussion. It nominates candidates for the Constitutional Court.
The recently elected coalition wishes to amend the Constitution to limit the presidential authority and strengthen the parliamentary system. It also wishes to broaden the powers of the Chamber of Districts, the existence of which has fortunately not been questioned.
I am convinced that bicameralism safeguards democracy, political balance and social stability. Minority rights are better protected. In monocameral systems, the merging of the executive and legislative branches generally leads to starvation of the latter. Whatever their method of election and their constitutional powers, upper chambers everywhere play an essential role. Their power must be increased. I am convinced that today's meeting will contribute to that. (Applause)
Mr. Moussa SANOGO, President of the Chamber of Representatives of Burkina Faso (Applause) - I am going to break with tradition and read you a letter from the Head of State of Burkina Faso, Mr Blaise Compaore, dated March 10 in Ouagadougou.
The President takes the opportunity of this meeting to salute the happy initiative of President Poncelet and address his encouragement to this great meeting of democratic cultures. He notes that while bicameralism is a tradition in northern countries, in southern ones it owes its existence to the wind of pluralist democracy that has been blowing through the nineties. In Burkina Faso, it was the Constitution dated June 2 1991, adopted by referendum, which enshrined bicameralism. The Chamber of Representatives only has an advisory role but has high moral authority due to its members. At the end of its second legislature it has already accomplished a great deal and it appears to have taken root in the Burkina Faso political landscape.
The President considers that in this period of globalisation, it is imperative to open up to other influences and he salutes the initiative to gather all the Senates of the world in a meeting which will also be the opportunity for inter-parliamentary exchanges. He wishes every success to this meeting.
This is President Compaoré's message.
On my own behalf, I wish to thank the organisers of this meeting for their farsightedness, for the various speeches have demonstrated how opportune it was. Despite their irreplaceable role in enforcing democracy, second chambers have lagged behind on the international scene. This is because they are councils of elders and wisdom in every part of the world is synonymous with slowness. But it is time now to imagine new formulas which will give our second chambers the place they deserve in a world in which globalisation is increasing and has ever greater need for lessons in wisdom. The fortunate initiative of the President of the French Senate is a forerunner of new meetings in this perspective, it is to be hoped.
Burkina Faso is a modest West African country which does not possess economic resources such as oil, diamonds or forest which are the only things to interest the international media. But there was one Frenchman who never mistook the vocation of my country, and that was General De Gaulle, who called Burkina Faso the "land of men". It is true that it is men that are the greatest wealth of my country, and the General had the opportunity to value their worth during the Second World War, for our men formed the majority of the African forces of "Senegal Rifles" which shed their blood in Europe to vanquish the Nazis.
Burkina Faso was also able to acquire unique political experience, since the single party system, present everywhere in Africa, never took root there. Despite many declarations of intent, political pluralism has never disappeared, and in 1978, the President of the Republic had to have a runoff election on the first round. This iconoclastic aspect of Burkina Faso political life remained when the country returned to democracy in 1991.
The Burkina Faso parliament thus comprises two chambers, the National Assembly composed of deputies, and the Chamber of Representatives. The two chambers have dissimilar prerogatives since the National Assembly exercises the traditional functions of a parliament, while the Chamber of Representatives has an advisory role. It gives opinions which it tables with the deputies and which the latter may, if they wish, use largely. A Chamber of Representatives was created to correct the imperfections of the monocameral representative system. In 1960, at the time of independence, a civil government was formed, but due to bad government, this first Republic was abolished in 1966 by popular insistence. The return to constitutional life in 1970 lasted only four years and the new Constitution adopted in 1978 lasted two years. The army returned to power in November 1980. Learning its lesson from this rocky political history, the constituent assembly of 1991 voted that national representation be the true image of popular wishes. While the Chamber of Deputies remains the forum of political battles, the Chamber of Representatives' role is to associate the community with legislative life. The present system allows every component of society to be involved in State life.
Civil society in Burkina Faso is very active, and one head of State has already been forced to resign. In both government and labour organisations, the single party system has never become established. Moreover, customary tribal rules still hold in important political situations. That is why the Chamber of Representatives operates on the model of the African talking tree, and so its symbol is the baobab.
The Burkina Faso Chamber is not a Senate in the classic sense, for separation of powers has not yet been integrated and social fabric is still fragile. However, the President, who has worked hard at its construction, has observed that the advisory character of the Chamber of Representatives does not detract from the moral authority of the socio-professional structures it includes. If it convinces people it is a valid mouthpiece for their aspirations, it will succeed."
Moreover, the President must consult it in certain situations, before dissolving the National Assembly and before voting a bill by referendum. He also consults it when his international committments or the territory are jeopardised. The President of the Chamber of Representatives, the President, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the National Assembly are all able to refer matters to the Constitutional Chamber. In addition, the Chamber of Representatives can refer matters to itself and give opinions on any bill or question of importance.
The 162 representatives are elected under procedures for each body. The Burkina Faso President nominates four. Their term of office is three years and they are unpaid. There are two ordinary sessions of 45 days each year and the representatives may also hold extraordinary sessions of not more than 10 days.
After its creation in 1991 the Chamber of Representatives has increased its prerogatives in legislation. Now the Assembly may only adopt laws on citizenship and exercise of public freedom, nationality, state and capacity of persons, successions and donations, procedures for harmonising customs with constitutional principles, protection of press freedom, access to education, and integration of national cultural values, with the consent of the Chamber of Representatives.
Our experience in second chambers is therefore recent. We aim to build up bicameralism which will favour participation of the greatest number in democracy. A meeting like this is a wonderful opportunity to gain experience from others (applause).
Mr Georges RAWIRI, President of the Senate of Gabon - (Applause). I will start by adding Gabon's voice to those of the other delegations in congratulating President PONCELET for his excellent initiative in inviting representatives of countries with bicameral systems to Paris. I would like to thank him for the warm welcome extended to my delegation.
The 1994 constitution reform led to the creation of a second chamber in Gabon. The induction of the Upper Chamber on 8 March 1997 was intended to strengthen the democratic process at the initiative of President Bongo, following the National Conference in 1990.
The Senate of Gabon has 91 Senators, including 12 women; parity is still some ways off! Senators are elected by indirect universal suffrage through a system of great electors, who are members of Parliament or regional and municipal councillors. The Senate's duties are to pass laws, supervise the Government's action and approve taxes. It also represents local authorities. A policy of decentralisation is being applied to make municipalities and regions the basis for local development and to stimulate solidarity that will benefit all population groups.
The Senate of Gabon holds two ordinary four-month sessions each year. It can also hold extraordinary sessions. The President of the Senate deputises for the President of the Republic in his absence. When the office of President of the Republic is vacant, he organises presidential elections. In order to ensure continuity of parliamentary representation, Senators serve six-year terms, while members of the National Assembly have only five-year terms.
This morning, our colleague from Mauritania, put forward the idea of a meeting of representatives from African Senates. Gabon supports this idea and wishes to be informed of preparations for this meeting. (Applause).
Mr Abdelaziz ABDELGHANI, President of the Consultative Council of Yemen - I would like to start by greeting President PONCELET and expressing our gratitude for holding this Meeting of the Senates of the World in the beautiful city of Paris. This gathering comes at just the right time and we hope that it will be an opportunity to share ideas and improve the political climate of the world.
The Senate of Yemen has always played an important role for Yemen's people. Yemenis have made a great contribution to human civilisation. They have recently achieved reunification and shown their determination to take their place on the international stage. Our civilisation is one of the oldest in the world and it was already flourishing at the dawn of man. Yemenis have always shown great creative ability. Yemen used to be called Happy Arabia and it was the home of the Queen of Sheba.
In May 1990, a reunited Yemen adopted a democratic political system with a Constitution that guarantees a multi-party political system based on human rights and dignity. Transparent elections were held in April 1993 and in April 1997, which confirmed the determination of Yemenis to operate within a democratic framework. In September 1997, the people elected Ali Abdallah Saleh President by universal suffrage. Last month, laws governing local institutions were promulgated. In 1999, Sanaa hosted a Forum of developing countries where they could share their experiences of democracy and see how democracy can promote growth and strengthen co-operation.
The Senate of Yemen was elected in 1997. It members are noted for their integrity and competence. They represent all regions and all social categories. The Senate has the power to examine all bills submitted to it and its prerogatives should soon be extended.
Today's meeting makes us aware of the importance of Upper Chambers. We hope that it will be held regularly.
On this, the tenth anniversary of Yemen's reunification, I bring you greetings from the Yemeni people and their wishes for peace. I wish the greatest success to the Meeting of the Senates of the World. (Applause).
CHAIRMAN - We shall move on to consideration of the draft communiqué, which will be presented by Mrs Heptulla.
Mrs Najma HEPTULLA, Vice-President of the Council of the States of India and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union - You must all be a little tired and sleepy after a delicious lunch, but I have to do my duty! (Smiles)
I congratulate the French Senate for having organised this meeting: the initiative is truly welcome at the dawn of the third millennium. (Applause). Moreover, the choice of Paris, the Mecca of democracy, is particularly fitting. It was in Paris in 1889 that the Inter-Parliamentary Union was founded. And a century earlier, the French Revolution was to change the course of history. And of course the very world "parliament" comes from the French word "parler".
The Senate is the best instrument for improving democratic institutions. Democratic government is an organic whole, so the two chambers of parliament must complement each other.
The various methods for electing Senates generally allow better representation of groups that are poorly represented in the lower chamber. In many cases, Senates also ensure the unity of a federation, a function that is particularly important for large countries like India, the United States and Canada. Many Constitutions provide for emergency powers to be granted to the federal government provided that the upper chamber, the guarantor of the country's unity, gives its authorisation.
In India, the President appoints twelve eminent persons so that they can contribute their wisdom to debates. In other countries, certain communities are represented in Senate so that they can raise a voice which would otherwise be lost in the hurly-burly of direct elections. Thus, the Senate is the authentic expression of the country in all its composite parts. Although democracy gives power of decision to the majority, it must not neglect other opinions.
Political life needs an element of stability, which in most countries is provided by the Senate because it can work at a distance from the pressures of the everyday. Often, giving draft legislation two readings is enough to forestall measures that are over-hasty or taken under the pressure of political imperatives.
Senates often emerge as the voice of wisdom. As the Mahabharata says:
"That is not an Assembly where there are no eldermen,
Those are not elders who do not speak with righteousness,
That is no righteousness where there is no truth,
That is not truth which leads on to deceit". (Applause)
It is no wonder that more and more countries are adopting bicameral models. Almost a third of parliaments - 65 out of 177 - have a bicameral structure. Many Senates have been in existence for decades, others have been created more recently, especially in the emerging democracies of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many other countries are considering the establishment of a Senate.
In my opinion, Senates have brought about the convergence of democracy and government. It was in France that democracy was born, through a popular revolt against despotism. From here, it spread all over the world. Democratic institutions have gradually developed and improved. It is only right that we should return to Paris to discuss the role of Senates and their future.
After the barbarity of two world wars, humanity has developed institutions to secure peace and development. International rules of behaviour have been adopted. And yet there has been no end to racial and ethnic conflict, and we have seen the emergence of terrorism with its devastating effects on civil society. In fifty years, more deaths have been caused by terrorism than by war.
Senators are at the centre of this experiment in democratic government. They must do everything in their power to prevent such scourges: democracy consists precisely in the peaceful reconciliation of rival interests.
Violent manifestations of these interests are patently undemocratic, and India has suffered greatly from them in the last two decades. Similar trends have emerged in other parts of the world, and even Europe has been hit by terrorist violence, sometimes state-sponsored.
Democracy accepts diversity within society and works to bring them together. It is therefore necessary for us to address the other great issues of our time. Globalisation has to be reconciled with social progress so that it may become a tool for sustainable and equitable development. The promises made to the developing nations in the Uruguay Round have not been kept; rather, it is the protectionism of the strongest that has been endorsed.
It is high time to correct these imbalances in the trade regime. The message sent to Davos and Seattle is clear. It was also voiced in the forum of UNCTAD. We are concerned about the polarisation of wealth and resources. Parliamentarians need to become involved in trade negotiations so that the voice of the people can be heard. The Director General of WTO and the Secretary General of UNCTAD seemed receptive to this suggestion.
It is necessary to reconcile diverse political, economic and social interests and to start a dialogue between civilisations. Only democracy has the capacity to facilitate such a dialogue.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union has placed the issue on the agenda of its next conference at Amman in April. In August, it will convene a conference of Presiding Officers of Parliaments at the UN headquarters in New York. The Conference will coincide with the Millennium Session of the UN. Proposals from parliamentarians will represent their contribution to the session. Thus, the IPU is gradually emerging as the parliamentary arm of the United Nations.
As President of the IIPU, I invite you to take part in this significant event.
Once again, may I thank those who organised this meeting. (Applause)
Mrs HEPTULLA reads the draft final statement by delegations attending the World Forum of Senates (cf. Annex). (Applause)
Mrs. HEPTULLA - I think the applause may be taken to indicate approval.
Mr. CHHANG (Cambodia) - I am afraid that the wording of the last paragraph may be tantamount to giving orders to the executive.
CHAIRMAN - Let me reassure you: the text does not impose anything, it merely makes a recommendation to international organisations and institutions that run assistance programmes.
I put the draft statement to the vote.
The draft statement is adopted unanimously.
CHAIRMAN - Before closing the World Forum of Senates, on behalf of the French Senate I bid farewell to all the delegations that have done us the honour and pleasure of accepting our invitation and taking an active part in our work. I hope that this first Forum will be given the follow-up it deserves.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. (Applause)
The session is closed at 17.30