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Juan Carlos Orenes Ruiz, , Doctor in Law and Adjunct Professor of the University

Renew or die

The author points out that the survival of the Senate depends on its ability to become a true chamber representing the Autonomous Communities.

Fri, 03 May 2013 15:09:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The PSOE has made a series of proposals for an in-depth reform of the territorial model , including the suppression of the Senate and its replacement by a chamber of territorial representation which would not be directly elected by the citizens. To this end, it is proposed to reform its composition and functions, limiting its intervention in the legislative process and prioritizing its action in laws of autonomous content. Leaving aside the strategic motivations that may lie behind the proposals made, there is no doubt that the reform of the Senate is not a new issue. The Spanish Cortes have had a bicameral composition since 1834; the Senate, with such a denomination, appears in the Constitution since 1837, at that time, the majority of its members were appointed by the King and fulfilled a counterbalancing function. The 1978 Constitution, following the historical tradition, established a bicameral structure of the Cortes, defining the Senate as the Chamber of territorial representation; however, neither by its composition, nor by the way in which its members are elected, nor by the functions attributed to it, can it fulfill this role. The Senate, in the internship, acts as a second legislative chamber, of second reading, which reproduces the functions of the congress and, ultimately, is subordinate to the latter. Although it can amend or veto laws, it is always the congress that has the last word. It is therefore an imperfect bicameralism, clearly unbalanced in favor of the congress of the Deputies.

With its current configuration, the Senate runs the risk of being perceived as a sumptuous institutional antiquity that the political parties use to place prominent members of their apparatus. The survival of the Senate depends on its capacity to become a true chamber representing the Autonomous Communities; in 2006, the committee of State pronounced, in a report on the constitutional reform, on the functions that should be attributed to the Senate as a chamber of territorial representation and on the most appropriate composition to defend territorial interests, for which it made a series of interesting proposals.

However, the two major political parties, whose agreement is essential to undertake any reform of the Constitution, once in power, are reluctant to start the reform of an institution that confers them desirable plots of power and whose revision would put on the table all the problems related to the territorial structure of the State. Meanwhile, time is running against the Senate, the loss of its image has deeply permeated public opinion and is becoming irreversible; from the demand for reform to open talk of its suppression, citizens are showing a growing and unstoppable disaffection towards an institution they consider useless and in which they do not feel represented.

Thus, it is particularly worrying that in the proposal formulated by the PSOE, the election of the members of this new chamber of representation that would replace the Senate is attributed either to the autonomous governments or to the autonomous parliaments. At present, the majority of senators, 208 of the 266 members of the upper chamber, are elected directly by the citizens; moreover, a corrected majority system is foreseen for the election, with open lists, in which citizens can vote for the candidates they prefer and in which, paradoxically, voters tend to concentrate their votes on the candidates of the same party.

Depriving citizens of the possibility of directly electing the members of the chamber would mean attributing to them an indirect democratic legitimacy and would constitute a further cutback in the already diminished capacity of citizens to intervene in political life. As was very well indicated in the aforementioned report of the committee of State, opting for this system of appointment would weaken the connection of the Senate with the electorate and would tarnish its perception as a representative Chamber"; we find ourselves with a new sample of the traditional distrust of the political parties towards the citizens. Participation in a democratic system advises that, at least, we should be able to elect those who are going to represent us; otherwise, it would make it easier for the political parties, with their rigid discipline of action, to share out the seats in this new chamber of territorial representation by quotas.