French Senate
The Senate is the upper house
Upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...

 of the Parliament of France
Parliament of France
The French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly . Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate, the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly.Each...

, presided over by a president.

The Senate enjoys less prominence than the lower house, the directly elected National Assembly; debates in the Senate tend to be less tense and generally enjoy less media coverage.


France's first experience with an upper house was under the Directory
French Directory
The Directory was a body of five Directors that held executive power in France following the Convention and preceding the Consulate...

 from 1795 to 1799, when the Council of Ancients
Council of Ancients
The Council of Ancients or Council of Elders was the upper house of the Directory , the legislature of France from 22 August 1795 until 9 November 1799, roughly the second half of the period generally referred to as the French Revolution.The Council of Ancients was the senior of the two halves of...

 was the upper chamber. There were Senates in both the First
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 and Second
Second French Empire
The Second French Empire or French Empire was the Imperial Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870, between the Second Republic and the Third Republic, in France.-Rule of Napoleon III:...

 Empires (the former being known as the sénat conservateur
Sénat conservateur
The Sénat conservateur was a body set up in France during the Consulate by the Constitution of the Year VIII. With the Tribunat and the Corps législatif, it formed one of the three legislative assemblies of the Consulate...

, the latter as the French Senate), but these were only nominally legislative bodies – technically they were not legislative, but rather advisory bodies on the model of the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...


With the Restoration
Bourbon Restoration
The Bourbon Restoration is the name given to the period following the successive events of the French Revolution , the end of the First Republic , and then the forcible end of the First French Empire under Napoleon  – when a coalition of European powers restored by arms the monarchy to the...

 in 1814, a new Chamber of Peers was created, on the model of the British House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

. At first it contained hereditary peers, but following the July Revolution
July Revolution
The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution or in French, saw the overthrow of King Charles X of France, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would in turn be overthrown...

 of 1830, it became a body to which one was appointed for life. The Second Republic
French Second Republic
The French Second Republic was the republican government of France between the 1848 Revolution and the coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte which initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité...

 returned to a unicameral system after 1848, but soon after the establishment of the Second French Empire
Second French Empire
The Second French Empire or French Empire was the Imperial Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870, between the Second Republic and the Third Republic, in France.-Rule of Napoleon III:...

 in 1852, a Senate was established as the upper chamber. In the Fourth Republic
French Fourth Republic
The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems...

, the Senate was renamed the Council of the Republic, but its function was largely the same. With the new constitution of the Fifth Republic
French Fifth Republic
The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, introduced on 4 October 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, replacing the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system...

 enforced on 4 October 1958, the older name of Senate was restored.

In 2011, the Socialist Party won control
French Senate election, 2011
A Senate election was held for 165 of the 348 seats in the Senate of France on 25 September 2011. Senate members were primarily elected by municipal officials, and the number of senators was increased from 343 to 348, due to the growth of France's population since the previous election was held in...

 of the French Senate for the first time since the foundation of the French Fifth Republic.

Composition and election

Until September 2004, the Senate had 321 senators, each elected to a nine-year term. That month, the term was reduced to six years, while the number of senators progressively increased to 348 in 2011, in order to reflect changes in the country's demographics. Senators were elected in thirds every three years; this was also changed to one-half of their number every three years.

Senators are elected indirectly
Indirect election
Indirect election is a process in which voters in an election don't actually choose between candidates for an office but rather elect persons who will then make the choice. It is one of the oldest form of elections and is still used today for many upper houses and presidents...

 by approximately 150,000 officials ("grands électeurs"), including regional councilors, department councilors, mayors, city councilors in large towns, and members of the National Assembly. However, 90% of the electors are delegates appointed by councilors. This system introduces a bias in the composition of the Senate favoring rural areas. As a consequence, while the political majority changes frequently in the National Assembly, the Senate has remained politically conservative since the foundation of the Fifth Republic
French Fifth Republic
The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, introduced on 4 October 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, replacing the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system...

, much to the displeasure of the Socialists, This has spurred controversy, especially after the September 2008 senatorial elections in which the (left-wing) Socialist Party, despite controlling all but two of France's regions, a majority of départements, and communes representing more than 50% of the population, still failed to achieve a majority in the Senate. The Senate has also been accused of being a "refuge" for politicians that have lost their seats in the National Assembly.

Twelve senators are elected to represent French citizens living outside the Republic.

Following a tradition started by the first National Assembly during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, the "left-wing" parties sit to the left as seen from the president's seat, and the "right-wing" parties sit to the right, and the seating thus indicates the political spectrum
Political spectrum
A political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions....

 as represented in the Senate.


The senators elect a President from among their number. The current incumbent is Jean-Pierre Bel. The President of the Senate is, under the constitution of the Fifth Republic, first in the line of succession—in case of death, resignation or removal from office (only for health reasons)—to the Presidency of the Republic
President of the French Republic
The President of the French Republic colloquially referred to in English as the President of France, is France's elected Head of State....

, becoming Acting President of the Republic until a new election can be held. This happened twice for Alain Poher
Alain Poher
Alain Émile Louis Marie Poher was a French centrist politician, affiliated first with the Popular Republican Movement and later with the Democratic Centre. He served as a Senator for Val-de-Marne from 1946 to 1995. He was President of the Senate from 3 October 1968 to 1 October 1992 and, in that...

—once at the resignation of Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 and once at the death of Georges Pompidou
Georges Pompidou
Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou was a French politician. He was Prime Minister of France from 1962 to 1968, holding the longest tenure in this position, and later President of the French Republic from 1969 until his death in 1974.-Biography:...



Under the Constitution, the Senate has nearly the same powers as the National Assembly
French National Assembly
The French National Assembly is the lower house of the bicameral Parliament of France under the Fifth Republic. The upper house is the Senate ....

. Bills
Bill (proposed law)
A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive. Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an act or a statute....

 may be submitted by the administration (projets de loi) or by either house of Parliament (propositions de loi). Because both houses may amend the bill, it may take several readings to reach an agreement between the National Assembly and the Senate. When the Senate and the National Assembly cannot agree on a bill, the administration can decide, after a procedure called commission mixte paritaire, to give the final decision to the National Assembly, whose majority is normally on the government's side. This does not happen frequently; usually the two houses eventually agree on the bill, or the administration decides to withdraw it. However, this power gives the National Assembly a prominent role in the law-making process, especially since the administration is necessarily of the same side as the Assembly, for the Assembly can dismiss the administration through a motion of censure. The power to pass a vote of censure, or vote of no confidence, is limited. As was the case in the Fourth Republic's constitution, new cabinets do not have to receive a vote of confidence. Also, a vote of censure can occur only after 10 percent of the members sign a petition; if rejected, those members that signed cannot sign another petition until that session of Parliament has ended. If the petition gets the required support, a vote of censure must gain an absolute majority of all members, not just those voting. If the Assembly and the Senate have politically distinct majorities, the Assembly will in most cases prevail, and open conflict between the two houses is uncommon.

The Senate also serves to monitor the administration's actions by publishing many reports each year on various topics.


The Senate is housed inside the Luxembourg Palace
Luxembourg Palace
The Luxembourg Palace in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, north of the Luxembourg Garden , is the seat of the French Senate.The formal Luxembourg Garden presents a 25-hectare green parterre of gravel and lawn populated with statues and provided with large basins of water where children sail model...

 in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, and is guarded by Republican Guards
French Republican Guard
The Republican Guard is part of the French Gendarmerie. It is responsible for providing security in the Paris area and for providing guards of honor.Its missions include:...

. In front of the building lies the Senate's garden, the Luxembourg Garden, open to the public.

See also

  • French Congress
  • French Parliament
  • List of Presidents of the French Senate
  • Politics of France
    Politics of France
    France is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of France is head of state and the Prime Minister of France is the head of government, and there is a pluriform, multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is...

  • Senators for life in France

External links

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