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Pruning the Senate
The first few weeks in the reformed Senate were relatively difficult. The Sixth State Reform continues to limit the role of this political institution, but leaves the specific details of its operations to the new senators.
“The Sixth State Reform has unfortunately not abolished the Senate, but reformed it. There were tough negotiations about the number of committees and parliamentary allowances, as well as other benefits,” explains Annick De Ridder, who chairs the N-VA party in the Senate. “Nevertheless our party is satisfied with the end result: the number of committees has been reduced to three, there were no additional allowances for federated entity senators and the allowances for additional office tasks were reduced by no less than 75 percent. We also diligently and justifiably pruned computer, kilometre, postal and other allowances.”
With regard to the substance of its operations, the new Senate will retain a limited number of tasks. In addition to its reserved powers, in line with Articles 77 and 78 of the Constitution (Constitutional Review, special laws, etc.), this series of tasks includes compiling information reports on so-called transversal themes. These are topics that have a clear overlap with the different competence levels. The Senate is currently working on recommendations related to the equality of men and women. This is in relation to the twentieth anniversary of the UN World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in 1995. “A topic that concerns us all and that is clearly cross-competence in nature,” says De Ridder.
Preference for its abolishment
Naturally the N-VA would have preferred to see the Senate abolished. “But as long as the institution continues to exist, our senators will assume their role in it,” says Karl Vanlouwe, N-VA federated entity senator and vice-chairman of the Senate. The N-VA does advocate for the Senate not to perform any duplicated work. The objective of the Senate is not to handle matters that are already being discussed in other parliaments, but to specialise in compiling information reports on topics that are cross-competence in nature and that offer added value. “For instance, the Senate can make recommendations on the equality of men and women,” is the example provided by Vanlouwe. “Or on a faster and more efficient conversion of European Directives into legislation.”
As a result of the Senate’s reform, the support staff framework also urgently needs to be reformed. To date a framework has been established, which must be in place at the end of this parliamentary term, and negotiations have been held on transfer options to other parliaments and related institutions. “The N-VA will continue to jointly support proper dialogue with staff and search for additional solutions,” concludes N-VA federated entity senator Lieve Maes.