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 State of the Empire Address. The State Opening is an elaborate ceremony showcasing Cygnian culture and contemporary politics to large crowds and television viewers.
The State Opening of Congress takes place in the House of Representatives chamber on 23 January every year in front of both Houses of Congress. The Emperor, wearing the Imperial State Crown, delivers a speech detailing the Government's legislative agenda for the coming year.
Emperor Theodore V has opened every session of Congress since his accession.
Sequence of events
The State Opening is a lavish ceremony of several parts:
Assembly of Senators and Representatives
Representatives assemble in the House of Representatives chamber. They are joined by the members of the Supreme Court and of the diplomatic corps. Senators assemble in their own chamber. In the House of Representatives, Members sit closer to each other so as to provide more room for the Senators, who will join the Representatives later in the ceremony.
Election of Speaker and President
If the Congress is being opened for its first session, before the beginning of the ceremony, each House of Congress engages in its first vote to elect their presiding officers, most notably the Speaker in the House of Representatives and the President in the Senate. Once each is chosen by their respective house, they take their places at the heads of the chambers.
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. 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 House chamber, usually accompanied by the Empress and immediately preceded by the Earl Marshal, and by the Speaker of the House carrying the Cap of Maintenance on a white rod, and the Chief of Unified Defence Command carrying the Great Sword of State. Having reached the lectern set up in front of the Speaker's chair, the Emperor instructs the House by saying, "Honourable Representatives, pray be seated"; the other members of the Imperial Family take their seats on chairs laid out beforehand beside the Speaker.
Imperial summons of the House to the Senate chamber
Motioned by the Sovereign, the Speaker of the House raises his ceremonial gavel to signal to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who is charged with summoning the Senate and has been waiting in the House lobby. Black Rod turns and, under the escort of the Doorkeeper of the House and a police inspector (who orders "Hats off, Strangers!" to all persons along the way), enters the Chamber of the Senate. At the bar, Black Rod bows to the President before proceeding to the dispatch box where he announces the command of the Emperor for the attendance of the Senate, in the following words:
|“||Mr [or Madam] President, the Emperor commands this honourable Senate [pauses to bow to both sides of the House] to attend His Imperial Majesty immediately in the Chamber of the House of Representatives.||”|
Procession of the Senators
The President proceeds to attend the summons at once. The Sergeant-at-Arms picks up the Black Rod and, with the Speaker and the Sergeant-at-Arms, leads the Senators as they process, in pairs, towards the House of Representatives chamber. The Senate Government Leader and the Senate Leader of the Opposition, followed by the Deputy Government Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition usually walk side by side, leading the two lines of Senators. The Members then arrive at the Bar of the House where they bow to the Emperor. Then, the Senators take their seats in the House of Representatives chamber.
Delivery of the speech
The Emperor delivers a speech, known as the "State of the Empire Address", outlining the Government's agenda for the coming year. The speech is usually written by his personal speechwriter, and is based on the main points of the Government's legislative agenda for which the Government seeks the agreement of both Houses of Congress.
The whole speech is addressed to "Honourable Senators and Members of the House", with one significant exception that the Emperor says specifically, "Members of the House of Representatives, estimates for the public services will be laid before you", since the budget is constitutionally reserved to the House.
The Emperor delivers 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"during the speech. 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.
Departure of the Sovereign
Following the speech, the Emperor leaves the chamber before the Senators 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 House of Representatives:
|“|| Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Imperial Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Honourable Representatives 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 House of Representatives 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 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.