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Forum of the World's Senates

Paris, 9 February 2000 -- The French Senate has decided to invite the Presidents of the second chambers of all the world's parliaments to attend a Forum of the World's Senates taking place in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris on 14 March 2000.

This event marks an important occasion, as representatives from all of the world's senates have never before met together despite the fact that bicameral parliaments now represent the interests of three billion citizens around the world.

It comes in response to two specific trends: firstly, the growth in international exchange among the world's parliaments; secondly, and more importantly, the increase in the number of nations embracing the bicameral system. The number of nations adopting a two-tier parliamentary system is in constant progression. From some forty five in 1970, the number of senates has risen to sixty-seven today. Moreover, a dozen States are currently considering the creation of a Senate1(*).

This recent development -- which is all the more noteworthy given that a dominant trend of the 1970s was the decline in bicameralism -- results from the need for a democratic instrument that ensures the balanced functioning of the apparatus of state and an optimal functioning of the legislative process while reinforcing the scrutiny on government action.

Furthermore, it reflects the progressive spread of democratic systems on a global scale as well as a growing desire, on the part of countries that have adopted the bicameral system, for a balanced representation of the various constituents in society.

In an ever greater number of the world's nations, public reform and the modernisation of state institutions is being achieved via the implementation of independent checks and balances enabling dialogue and expression of national diversity to flourish.

While the trend towards bicameralism is clear, its advancement must be supported by contemporary reflection on its foundations, its implications and its prospects. To address this need, the French Senate has taken the initiative of convening the world's senates in this symbolic millennium year.

The Forum of the World's Senates has three major objectives :

  • to affirm the uniqueness of bicameralism, by raising awareness for its utility and vitality;

  • to compare and review different models for the functioning of upper houses around the world, so as to foster a scientific approach to the principles and "practices" of bicameralism;

  • to identify and discuss specific needs, and organise cooperation between the upper houses of the world while recognising regional and national characteristics.

The Forum also aims to draw lessons from a recent development: like other parliamentary chambers around the world, the French Senate is increasingly requested to lend support to parliaments of newly independent nations and countries in transition to democracy.

The French Senate's responds to these requests in three ways:

  • performing evaluative missions and reviews;

  • providing training, in the form of internships;

  • participating in international cooperation and assistance programmes.

Other Senates also undertake similar actions and have deployed specific efforts, structures and methods to this end. The Forum of the World's Senates aims to assess their effectiveness and envision their development in the service of democracy. It should thus help to build the foundations for flexible and coordinated cooperation between the world's senates in promoting bicameral parliamentary systems.

1 See Appendix 1 for a list and map of countries that have adopted a bicameral system.