Legislative Institutions become dependent upon the Executive Branch? By Elena Chobanian



In order to understand what are the legislative institutions’ functions, we firstly have to understand its structure and role in the political reality.


Legislature is the law-making body of a political unit, a national government which has the power to repeal public policy. It is one of the three main branches of a Government – executive, judicial and legislative. Why do we need legislative institutions? Well, for many reasons. Legislatures are significant structures for their governmental systems, and they are the oldest political institutions known to society. Individuals would join society for the preservation of their “lives, liberty and estates’’ (John Locke, Second Treatise on Government).

Laws enacted by legislatures are known as legislation. Legislatures do act and have exclusive authority to amend the budgets involved in the process. The legislative process allows parties to engage in position-taking to distinguish themselves from their coalition partners.  For instance, there are seven principal decision making bodies of the European Union: the European Parliament and Council, the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors.

In democratic countries (if we can called them thus) most people determine policy by directly voting or indirectly by choosing their representatives. This potential for change contrasts with the requirement of a market economy, that there be stable property rights. The state’s role is to define and enforce these rights. If however rights are perceived as insecure due to the fear of substantial tax increases, expected private returns from investments are lower reducing the economy growth. Instability occurs because the current median voter is uncertain whether he or she will be the median voter in the next period. Thus, public policies depend both on the political institutions and preferences of constituencies.

Parties role

Parties are important structures in legislative systems, because of their organizational influence and  impact on individual legislative behavior. For example, in the British House of Commons the party discipline is strong in comparison to US, but it doesn’t mean that there is no party discipline in the US Congress. Parties in a government coalition can also act as veto actors.


Legislative Committees role

Why do the legislature need committees? The answer is simple: to simplify the task of legislature dividing and specializing its labor.  There are various committees – Finance Committee, Agriculture Committee, Defense Committee, and so on. Moreover, there are different types of committees – standing committees, which are permanent; select committees, which are for specific issues; joint committees which are made up of the both houses members; or the committee of the whole, which is to establish a different set of procedural rules. The US Congress and Commission of the European Union are examples of decision bodies endowed with particular proposal rights. Congressional committees may block legislation. In the EU, proposals can be made only by the Commission and its proposal can be amended by the Council of Ministers by unanimity, and the approval of an unchanged proposal requires only the support of a qualified majority. Proposal rights have the right to block any proposals and to maintain the status quo. Thus, parties and committee systems are complementary enforcement mechanisms which may support each other.

The Parliament is only consulted and has no further procedural rights. It can maximum influence the decision by threatening delay. More influence by the Parliament can be expected on policy issues. The impact of the Commission and the Parliament is limited if a qualified majority in the Council objects to changing the status quo. Many parliamentary systems, in which the parliament elects the executive, are characterized by coalition governments. This is often the case in those countries that use a system of proportional representation (Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, etc.).


Legislative basic structure

Legislature can be unicameral or bicameral. Bicameral legislatures (the earliest samples of this system occurred in Great Britain, XIII century) are more common in some areas. small states usually have one chamber (unicameral) since the balance problem of political power is less difficult to solve in them than it is in big states. For instance, all Scandinavian countries, except of Norway, in XX century have replaced bicameral systems with unicameral ones. Some political structures do not act the same in fact/de facto as they do in law/de jure. That is, de jure an upper house of a legislature may delay/veto a bill (is the power, used by an officer of the state, to stop an official action) passed by the lower house (eg. US President may not sign a bill to become a law). The power may exist in law/de jure, but de facto not. That is upper house may not have used its power of veto for over 100 years. Although, we must remember that by actual fact rules are stronger than de jure rules.

Federal states, which reflect the split-government nature of a country, have two chambers (they are bicameral systems), and not only parliamentary chambers act as legislative decision-makers. This function can proceed voters as well. For example, the Province of Quebec in Canada refused to join the Canadian confederation in 1867, since it wanted assurances that it would continue controlling the respective areas of policy jurisdiction. Therefore, it became bicameral with two houses – the House of Commons, which is based on population, and the Senate, which is based on equal representation for the regional units of Canada. Federal regimes are bicameral, but not all bicameral systems are federal. And in case of upper houses the representational bases of the chambers vary, since they may represent territorial units, like in Canada. Upper house may provide equal representation for member units of a federation, like in US, it may also weight representation for member units of a federation, like in Germany. It may happen also that upper houses to have an extra house in the legislature, as well as several jurisdictions. In bicameral two houses may act as equal in a cooperative venture, or one house may dominate the other. Veto institutions are widespread in collective decision-making.

Legislative Functions

The legislatures perform five functions for political systems and they are the following: 1. Criticism, which is rooted in 17-18th century democratic political theory, is the most significant since it criticizes and controls the other branches of government (the executive). It is necessary for the maintenance of a stable political system, checking upon powers of monarchs. Unfortunately, today this function is more and more less performed. debate; lawmaking or legislation. 2. Debate – means discussion of values for the political system. It might discuss a bill (which must become a law) proposed by the executive or the bureaucracy, but the bill might become law even if it is never actually voted on and passed by the legislature. In this case, the legislature may seem to be performing both a debating and a legislating function, although de facto its function is limited to debate.  3. In Western countries legislatures function is that of lawmaking. “The principal function of the Parliament is to pass legislation. But, legislation is only a part of the Parliament’s business.” 4. Communication with the public, representation and legitimatio – the relationship between legislatures and lobbies, the pressure group and representation of individual opinion are important for a democratic government. By performing actions in response to these communications, the legislatures can be said to be acting in a representative manner. 5. Recruitment, education, and socialization – the process of attracting people to politics, giving them experience. By developing and maintaining political norms, legislatures actively participate in the process of political socialization and transmission of political values.  Of course, not all legislatures perform these five main functions, but if they do, all those are performed equally well, sometimes they perform even additional functions. Thus, if we say they don’t perform these functions, it doesn’t mean that they don’t perform none of them.

For example, British Parliament also has elective function – choosing the Prime Minister. The US House of Representatives has a similar elective function – choosing the President, but the House has rarely been called upon to perform this task. The decision by the US Supreme Court made the House’s participation in the election not necessary. It can even be a “virtual representation.”


Seats rules

The position of seats are terms of power. Parties leaders sit on the front benches of their representative sides, nonleaders, of followers, sit on the “backbrenches”/”frontbenchers” for leaders and “backbenches” for followers. The Prime Minister and members of the cabinet sit on the front benches of the Government side of the House. Members who sit on the front bench of the Opposition side of the House are party leaders who would be in the cabinet if their party were in power. Legislators tend to move to their parties front bench. Those seated on the front bench tend to have more power influence than those not on the front benches. Although the British model of the legislature places an emphasis of its physical organization – on the “Government versus the Opposition” conflict in the legislature, not all legislatures are organized in this way. The ideology of “left” and “right” were simply holdovers from 1792, French Council of 500. Those generally supporting the monarch’s policies sat on his right, while those who proposed changes in his policies sat on his left. “Leftists” today favor change and “rightists” prefer the status quo. American legislative bodies, like the French Council of 500, sit in a semicircular pattern as well.


Legislature and Executive. Which is more powerful?

Some argue that the legislature loses its power and becomes more dependent upon the executive branch. Legislature may remain as an institution, if it allows the executive to lead.  For instance, US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee is not able to oversee the policy of the US State Department. But, even if the executive institution seem to gain more power over the legislative branch, since its rapidly expansion, it doesn’t mean that the legislative institution has fully surrendered.



Legislative institutions play an important role in a certain government, but they may vary in different political systems. And, even if this branch seem to having lost its power, the issue of legislative reforms and strengthened relationship between executive-legislature, have been discussed for over many years.

Posted by on Jan 21 2016. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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