Bicameral system

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  • Countries with a unicameral system
  • Countries with a unicameral system and an advisory body
  • Countries with a bicameral system
  • Countries without a parliament with legislative power
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  • In a two-chamber system (also known as bicameralism ) the parliament has two chambers ( bicameral parliament ). As a rule, the chambers of a parliament have different tasks, and they are also elected or composed in different ways. Historically, the chambers are referred to as the Upper House ("First Chamber") and the Lower House ("Second Chamber").


    In political science , the more powerful of the two chambers, usually the one elected by the people, is usually referred to as the first chamber, while the less powerful, usually the one with a federal or corporate status, is called the second chamber. Historically, however, the parliament was mostly the Second Chamber, as it was less respected and initially less powerful. This also explains the designations of the lower house for the representative body and upper house for the representation defined by the estates or the federal government. In the following, the historical variant of the term is used to avoid confusion.

    Functions of the chambers

    The division of the two chambers usually corresponds to one of the following two variants:

    • Variant with different meaning of the chambers and not direct choice of the second chamber.
      • One chamber is elected by the people and is responsible for the actual legislative work. It also influences the formation of a government , if it does not even choose the government itself.
      • As a rule, the members of the other chamber are elected indirectly or partially appointed. A federal structure of the state as a whole is often taken into account ( representation of the member states ) . Historically, it can also be a matter of representing the nobility , such as B. in the British House of Lords . This chamber often has little influence on legislation.
    • Variant with equal importance of the two chambers - division mostly according to population density and representation of the member states in a federal political system; The two chambers have the same powers, but are supposed to represent the chosen political conditions on the one hand and the individual member states as such on the other . This prevents densely populated urban areas from always being able to outvote smaller rural areas; Also, the member state representation (usually called the “small chamber”) is not bound to other political structures ( party affiliation of the state government to be represented, etc.).
      • Both chambers are directly elected by the people
        • One chamber is elected by eligible voters from across the country
        • The other chamber is elected according to parts of the federation: in most cases each state has the same number of representatives
      • Both chambers must approve all of the drafts so that they can come into force.

    Many bicameral political systems have a special joint session of both chambers, for example the United States of America , Switzerland and the Netherlands . Such a meeting serves to elect or greet a head of state or has exceptional powers.

    There can be big differences depending on the country. In Italy one speaks of a perfect bicameralism because both chambers have equal influence on legislation. In Switzerland, the National Council is formed according to the proportion of the population; in the Council of States, however, each canton has only two representatives, the historical half-cantons only one. A similar system to that in Switzerland applies in the USA: there, too, both chambers are elected by the people, albeit in different ways. The Austrian Federal Assembly consists of the National Council and the Federal Council .


    The bicameral system has been criticized for tending to prevent flexible politics. One chamber could block the other. This happens especially when there are different political majorities in both chambers. From the aspect of the separation of powers , however, this blocking effect is also viewed positively, especially when one chamber is composed significantly differently than the other (for example, it represents the interests of the member states ).

    See also


    • Gisela Riescher, Sabine Russ, Christoph M. Haas (eds.): Second chambers . 1st edition. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich / Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-486-25089-2 .
    • Arend Lijphart : Patterns of democracy: government forms and performance in thirty-six countries . 2nd Edition. Yale University Press, New Haven 1999, ISBN 0-300-07893-5 .
    • Sven Leunig (Ed.): Handbook of Federal Second Chambers. Barbara Budrich Verlag, Opladen / Farmington Hill 2009, ISBN 978-3-86649-852-5 .
    • Hans Albrecht Schwarz-Liebermann von Wahlendorf: Structure and function of the so-called Second Chamber. A study on the problem of the separation of powers . Tübingen 1958.
    • Tobias Friske: Chambers of the People? The Second Chambers in German Early Constitutionalism . Freiburg 2007. ( full text )

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ H. Ullrich: The political system of Italy. In: W. Ismayr (Ed.): The political systems of Western Europe. 4th, updated and revised edition. 2009, p. 648.