France – Left majority in the Senate for the first time ever

In France, a partial renewal of the Senate took place on Sunday. A total of 165 of 348 seats were up for election. The very big news is that for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic (1958- ), the left has a Senate majority. Indeed, arguably, it is the first time that there has been an upper house left-wing majority in the history of the French Republic.

The left now has 177 seats, or a slim majority. In total, the left gained 25 seats. Here is the seat distribution so far.

Socialists: 146 (+22)
Communists and Left Party: 21 (-3)
Greens: 10 (+6)
Centrists: 26 (-5)
UMP: 146 (-15)

The Senate is elected by local councillors (regional, municipal etc.). Given France has thousands of very small communes (e.g. villages in the country), the electorate is very rural and usually conservative. This has generated an in-built right-wing majority since the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Now, the left controls all regions bar one, about 60% of all departments, and a lot of large towns. There have also been certain changes to the way in which senators are elected. In addition, the right was divided in certain constituencies (especially Paris) and generally the government was unpopular. All of these factors combined to allow the left to win just enough seats to gain a majority.

The left comprises a fairly diverse set of groups, ranging from the communists to the centre-left. Therefore, even though it has a majority, it is not clear how cohesive this majority will be. However, it is likely to be cohesive enough to elect the president of the Senate on 1 October.

The left’s majority will make it slightly more difficult for the right-wing majority in the National Assembly to pass legislation. Potentially, though, the biggest impact of the change will come if and when the left win the presidential and legislative elections next year. If they do, then they can pass law to reform the Senate (previously the Senate had a veto) and the way it is elected.

I am tweeting the French presidential election. If you want to follow events there, then please follow me on Twitter @robertelgie

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