Exploring their Evolutions, Similarities, and Differences
TheJournal X AssociationMarianne
William Ewart Gladstone once said, “parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole.” These words highlight the importance of parliaments as key democratic institutions that exercise legislative functions and oversee government activities. Despite choosing bicameral structures, two established European democracies such as France and Italy present notable differences between their parliamentary systems. In this article, we will explore the historical evolution and differences between the French and Italian parliaments from political, institutional, and cultural perspectives.
Historical and Cultural Traditions: The Evolution of the French and Italian Parliaments
The history and evolution of the Italian and French parliaments are complex and intertwined with the political, social, and cultural changes that have occurred over the centuries. In Italy, the parliamentary system was established in 1861 with the unification of the country under the House of Savoy. The first parliamentary chamber was the Chamber of Deputies, which was elected through a limited suffrage system. In the early 20th century, however, there were calls for electoral reform and universal suffrage, which were granted in 1912. The system was again reformed after World War II, and the current two-chamber system was established in 1948 following a constitutional referendum. Today, the Italian Parliament is made up of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, both elected by direct universal suffrage.
In France, the history of the parliamentary system can be traced back to the Estates-General, which was established in the Middle Ages to advise the king on matters of state. During the French Revolution, the Estates-General was dissolved, and the National Assembly was created as a representative body for the people. The bicameral system, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate, was established in the Third Republic in 1875. The National Assembly was seen as the more democratic chamber, while the Senate was created as a conservative counterbalance to the more radical lower chamber. Since then, the French parliament has never stopped working, except for a hiatus during the Vichy regime in World War II – it was officially reinstated in 1946.
Both the Italian and French parliaments have faced numerous challenges throughout their histories, including political instability, corruption, and constitutional crises. In Italy, there have been several periods of political turmoil, including the so-called anni di piombo (“years of lead”) in the 1970s, during which there was a wave of political violence and terrorism. In France, there have been several constitutional crises, including the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958 and the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005. Despite these challenges, the Italian and French parliaments remain central to their respective political systems, and they continue to play a crucial role in shaping the political, economic, and social landscapes of their countries. The parliaments have evolved over time to reflect the changing needs and demands of their societies, and they continue to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.
Political Differences: Power Dynamics and Accountability
Nowadays, the political differences between the French and Italian parliaments have significant implications for how their respective governments operate. In France, the National Assembly holds greater power over the government, as it is the only chamber that can bring a motion of no confidence against it with an absolute majority of its members. This means that the government must constantly maintain the support of the National Assembly, making it more vulnerable to changes in the political climate and power shifts. On the other hand, in Italy, the government is accountable to both chambers, which requires it to have the support of a parliamentary majority in both chambers to govern. This gives the government more stability but also makes it harder for it to push through controversial policies.
The different power dynamics also have implications for the role of the Senate in each country. In France, the Senate has a relatively weaker role, as it does not have the power to bring a motion of no confidence against the government. Nonetheless, it can still express its opinions on government policies through its committees and inquiries. In Italy, the Senate has a more significant role, as it must also approve a motion of no confidence for the government to fall. This gives the Senate more power and influence over the government’s actions, making it a more significant player in the country’s political landscape.
Institutional Differences: Electoral Systems and Chamber Composition
Apart from power dynamics, there are institutional differences between the French and Italian parliaments concerning the electoral system and the composition of the chambers. In France, the National Assembly is composed of 577 deputies elected by direct universal suffrage in single-member constituencies in two rounds. The Senate, on the other hand, is composed of 348 senators elected by indirect universal suffrage by an electoral college made up of grand electors (mayors, municipal, regional, and deputy councillors). In Italy, the Chamber of Deputies comprises 630 deputies elected by direct universal suffrage with a proportional system corrected by a threshold and a majority bonus. The Senate of the Republic, on the other hand, is composed of 315 senators elected by direct universal suffrage with the same system as the Chamber, but on a regional basis, plus 5 senators appointed by the President of the Republic and life senators (former presidents of the Republic and high-profile personalities).
The differences in electoral systems also affect the party system in both countries. In France, the two-round majority system tends to favour larger parties and makes it difficult for smaller parties to gain representation in the National Assembly. Historically, this has led to the dominance of two major parties, the Republicans and the Socialists, with other parties struggling to gain significant representation. In Italy, the proportional system has led to a highly fragmented party system, with a large number of small parties gaining representation in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This has resulted in unstable governments and frequent changes in coalitions.
Another institutional difference between the two parliaments is the term length of the chambers. In France, the National Assembly has a five-year term, while the Senate has a six-year term with half its members up for election every three years. In Italy, both chambers have a five-year term. The longer-term length of the Italian Senate, combined with its power to veto legislation, means that the chamber is less subject to rapid changes in public opinion and electoral shifts than the French Senate. However, the shorter term length of the French National Assembly means it is more directly responsive to changes in public opinion and electoral shifts.
In general, the differences in the electoral system and chamber composition reflect the unique political histories of France and Italy. In France, the National Assembly is considered the more powerful chamber, while the Senate has a relatively weaker role. In Italy, the two chambers are relatively equal in power, with the Senate having the power to scrutinise and veto legislation passed by the Chamber of Deputies.
Institutional Similarities: Constitutional Revisions and Joint Sessions
The institutional similarities between the French and Italian parliaments go beyond power dynamics, electoral systems, and chamber composition. Both countries share similar rules when it comes to constitutional revisions, requiring approval from both chambers with the same qualified majority or through a confirmatory referendum. This provision ensures that constitutional changes are well-considered and agreed upon by the two chambers, as well as the people before they can be implemented. It also ensures that no single chamber can unilaterally change the constitution without the support of the other.
Another similarity is the practice of holding joint sessions between the two chambers. In France, joint sessions are held at Versailles in Congress to elect the President of the Republic or to declare their impediment or cessation, whereas, in Italy, joint sessions are held in the Assembly to elect the President of the Republic or to declare their impediment or cessation. This practice serves as a symbol of national unity, where both chambers come together to carry out an important function that transcends their political differences. It also shows that both countries value the role of the President as the head of state and a unifying figure for the country.
In conclusion, the French and Italian parliaments share many similarities, such as the requirement for joint sessions to elect the President of the Republic or for constitutional revisions, but also have notable differences in power dynamics, electoral systems, and chamber composition. These differences inevitably reflect their unique political, institutional, and cultural histories. Therefore, understanding these differences and similarities is crucial for anyone seeking to comprehend the functioning of these two important European democracies.