Provincial elections: Senate significance increased, but not exaggerating, says professor
The Senate's importance in legislation has increased significantly over the past quarter century. "But we shouldn't exaggerate its importance either. Not many laws are blocked by the Senate," says Bert van den Braak, professor of parliamentary history at Maastricht University, ahead of the provincial council elections. At the end of May, a total of 570 Provincial States members will elect members of the Senate.
In the past, the Senate primarily considered laws adopted by the Tweede Kamer and judged them purely on their content. "But in the last 25 years, the Senate has undergone an important evolution," Van den Braak says. Since 2010, Cabinets no longer have a majority in the Senate as a matter of course. This new responsibility has also been possible, he says, because the Senate's mandate was not well defined. "Opposition parties see the Senate as a body to put additional pressure on the government, which wasn't very often the case before 2000."
Until the turn of the millennium, coalition parties almost always had a majority in both the Senate and the Tweeder Kamer, so Cabinets didn't have to worry as much about whether the bill would pass in the Senate. "But it is increasingly common for the Cabinet to have to work with the opposition in the Tweeder Kamer to get legislation through the Senate. We see that Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Deputy Prime Minister Sigrid Kaag increasingly have to take into account what, for example, Attje Kuiken (PvdA) and Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks) from the opposition think about it. As a result, more politically broad-based legislation is now being passed,” explains the professor.
Discussions about abolishing the Senate are pointless, says Van den Braak, because there is no constitutional majority for it anyway. However, he believes something should change. "Is it still justifiable from a democratic point of view that not the directly elected Tweede Kamer but the indirectly elected Senate has the final say on bills?" he wonders.
In an earlier paper, the professor discussed a possible abolition of the Senate, but he does not advocate its abolition. "Maybe it is useful after all to have another body besides the Tweede Kamer that deals with legislation. But since the start of the current Cabinet, the Senate has only rejected three proposals or sent them back to the Tweede Kamer. During the previous Rutte government, only five bills were rejected in total between 2017 and last year, and they weren't really significant either."
Reporting by ANP