The State Opening of Congress is an event which formally marks the beginning of a session of the Imperial Congress of Cygnia. It includes the Speech from the Throne. The State Opening is an elaborate ceremony showcasing Cygnian culture and contemporary politics to large crowds and television viewers.
It takes place in the Senate chamber on 23 January every four years in front of both Houses of Congress. The Emperor, wearing the Imperial State Crown, reads a speech that has been prepared by his government outlining its plans for the next year. In the three years following, the Chancellor delivers an annual State of the Empire address, to seek the continued approval of Congress for the Government's agenda.
Emperor Theodore V has opened every Congress since his accession.
Sequence of events
The State Opening is a lavish ceremony of several parts:
Assembly of Senators and Members
Senators assemble in the Senate chamber. They are joined by the members of the Supreme Court and of the diplomatic corps. Members of the National Assembly assemble in their own chamber.
Arrival of imperial regalia
Before the arrival of the sovereign, the Imperial State Crown is carried to Federation Hall in a State Coach, guarded by four members of the Armed Forces, each one representing its four branches. From the main entrance, the Crown is passed by the seniormost guard to the Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's office. It is then carried, along with the Great Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance, to be displayed in the Imperial Gallery.
Arrival of the Sovereign and assembly of Congress
The Emperor arrives from Ellingham Palace at Federation Hall in his official state car, entering through the main entrance. He is accompanied by the Empress and sometimes by other members of the Imperial Family, such as the Duke and Duchess of Augusta, or the Princess Imperial. Traditionally, members of the armed forces line the procession route from Ellingham Palace to Federation Hall. The Imperial Standard is hoisted to replace the Cygnian flag upon the Sovereign's entrance and remains flying while he is in attendance. Then, after he takes on the Congressional Robe of State and Imperial State Crown in a short ceremony held in the Great Hall, the Emperor proceeds to the main entrance of the Senate chamber, usually accompanied by the Empress and immediately preceded by the Earl Marshal, and by the President of the Senate carrying the Cap of Maintenance on a white rod, and the Chief of Unified Defence Command carrying the Great Sword of State. Once seated on the throne, the Emperor, wearing the Imperial State Crown, instructs the Senate by saying, "Honourable Senators, pray be seated"; the Empress takes her seat on the throne to his left and other members of the Imperial family may be seated elsewhere on the dais (for instance the Duke and Duchess of Augusta are seated on thrones on a lower portion of the dais to the Emperor's right.)
Imperial summons of the Assembly to the Senate chamber
Motioned by the Sovereign, the President of the Senate raises his ceremonial gavel to signal to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who is charged with summoning the National Assembly and has been waiting in the Assembly lobby. Black Rod turns and, under the escort of the Doorkeeper of the Senate and a police inspector (who orders "Hats off, Strangers!" to all persons along the way), approaches the door to the Chamber of the National Assembly.
In a tradition carried over from the British State Openings of Parliament, the doors of the National Assembly chamber are slammed shut against Black Rod upon his approach, symbolising the rights of Congress and its independence from the Sovereign. He then taps with the end of the Black Rod three times on the closed doors of the Assembly Chamber, and is then admitted. At the bar, Black Rod bows to the Speaker before proceeding to the dispatch box where he announces the command of the Emperor for the attendance of the Assembly, in the following words:
|“||Mr [or Madam] Speaker, the Emperor commands this honourable Assembly [pauses to bow to both sides of the Assembly] to attend His Imperial Majesty immediately in the Chamber of the Imperial Senate.||”|
Procession of the Assembly
The Speaker proceeds to attend the summons at once. The Sergeant-at-Arms picks up the ceremonial mace and, with the Speaker and Black Rod, leads the Members of the National Assembly as they walk, in pairs, towards the Senate chamber. By custom, the Members saunter, with much discussion and joking, rather than formally process. The Caretaker Chancellor (or the Chancellor him/herself if re-elected) and the Leader of the Opposition, followed by the Caretaker Vice Chancellor (or the Vice Chancellor him/herself if re-elected) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition usually walk side by side, leading the two lines of MNAs. The Members then arrive at the Bar of the Senate where they bow to the Emperor. No person who is not a Senator may pass the Bar unbidden when it is in session; a similar rule applies to the Assembly. They remain standing at the Bar during the speech.
Delivery of the speech
The Emperor reads a prepared speech, known as the "Speech from the Throne", outlining the Government's agenda for the coming year. The speech is written by the Chancellor and his cabinet members, and reflects the legislative agenda for which the Government seeks the agreement of both Houses of Congress. It is traditionally written on goatskin vellum, and presented on bended knee for the Queen to read by the President of the Senate, who produces the scroll from a satchel-like bag. Traditionally, rather than turning his back on the Sovereign, which might appear disrespectful, the President walks backwards down the steps of the throne, continuing to face the Sovereign.
The whole speech is addressed to "Honourable Senators and Members of the Assembly", with one significant exception that the Emperor says specifically, "Members of the National Assembly, estimates for the public services will be laid before you", since the budget is constitutionally reserved to the Assembly.
The Emperor reads the entire speech in a neutral and formal tone, implying neither approval nor disapproval of the proposals of His Majesty's Government: the Emperor makes constant reference to "My Government" when reading the text. After listing the main bills to be introduced during the session, the Emperor states: "other measures will be laid before you", thus leaving the Government scope to introduce bills not mentioned in the speech. The Emperor mentions any State Visits that he intends to make and also any planned State Visits of foreign leaders to Cygnia during the Congressional session. The Emperor concludes the speech in saying:
|“||Honourable Members, Honourable Senators, I pray that you will heed these words, and serve to the best of your ability, this Empire, her Constitution, and her People.||”|
Traditionally, the members of both Houses of Congress listen to the Speech from the Throne respectfully, neither applauding nor showing dissent towards the speech's contents before it is debated in each House.
Swearing in of Congressmen
After the conclusion of the Speech, each member of Congress takes their Oath of Office, pledging loyalty to the Emperor, to the Constitution and to the People. This is with the exception of the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, who take their oaths separately at the Cancellarial Inauguration on 6 February.
Departure of the Sovereign
Following the speech, the Emperor leaves the chamber before the Members of the Assembly bow again and return to their Chamber.
Debate on the speech
After the Emperor's departure, each Chamber proceeds to the consideration of an "Address in Reply to His Imperial Majesty's Gracious Speech." For the address in reply, a chosen member moves "That a humble Address be presented to His Imperial Majesty, as follows". The following is the form used in the Senate and is identical to that used in the National Assembly:
|“|| Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Imperial Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Honourable Senators in Congress assembled, beg leave to thank Your Imperial Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Imperial Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Congress.
The first speech of the debate in the National Assembly is, by tradition, a humorous one given by a member selected in advance. The consideration of the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne is the occasion for a debate on the Government's agenda. The debate on the Address in Reply is spread over several days. On each day, a different topic, such as foreign affairs or finance, is considered. The debate provides and indication of the views of Congress regarding the government's agenda.
The State Opening of Congress is a ceremony loaded with historical ritual and symbolic significance for the governance of Cygnia. In one place are assembled the members of all three branches of government: the Imperial Congress constitutes the legislature; the Emperor and His Majesty's Cabinet (who are members of one or other House) constitute the executive; the Supreme Court are summoned to represent the judiciary. Therefore, the State Opening demonstrates not only the governance of Cygnia but also the separation of powers. The importance of international relations is also represented through the presence in the Chamber of the Diplomatic Corps.