Unlike the lower house National Assembly, the Senate is not elected by direct universal suffrage but by around 150,000 voters known as “grands electeurs” who include elected regional and national officials.
As such, this electoral college represents a reflection of the results of local elections where Macron’s Renaissance party – only founded for his 2017 presidential campaign and lacking grass roots – has consistently performed badly.
Only half the Senate is elected at any one time and on Sunday 170 of the 348 seats were up for grabs for a six-year mandate. In 2026 the other 178 seats will be voted for.
With the biggest party the right-wing Les Républicains followed by the Socialists, the composition of the Senate is a throwback to traditional French politics up until the last decade, since when presidential elections have been dominated by the centrist Macron, hard-left and far-right.
The results of Sunday’s voting showed a trend towards incumbent senators keeping their seats, indicating the Républicains would remain by far the largest faction, followed by the Socialists.
The Républicains party said it expected to have 143-144 senators, almost identical to its current contingent of 145, while its more centrist allies in the chamber were hoping for 60 senators.
Patrick Kanner, head of the Socialists in the Senate, said he expected an alliance of his party along with Greens and Communists to get around 100 seats. The hard-left has stayed out of this alliance
While it has some authority especially over constitutional issues, the Senate lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house. However an uncooperative Senate can cause considerable problems for the government.
The right has controlled the Senate in recent years, except for a 2011-2014 interlude when it went to the Socialists.
Macron’s party lost its overall majority in the National Assembly in 2022 parliamentary elections and has rammed through a string of laws – including a controversial pension reform – using a controversial article that allows bills to pass without a vote.
In one major embarrassment for Macron’s faction, Sonia Backès, the state secretary for citizen issues, and the only minister standing on Sunday, lost her seat in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia to pro-independence candidate Robert Xowie.
Senate speaker Gérard Larcher of the Républicains is expected to remain in his job – which last week saw the 74-year-old welcome the UK’s King Charles III to the Senate – by winning a sixth consecutive mandate.
“This senatorial renewal reinforces the senatorial majority of the right and the centre,” said Larcher, describing the chamber as an “essential counter-power”.
Bruno Retailleau, the head of the Républicains group in the Senate, said the result marked a “new failure of the president of the republic” showing his party’s “lack of connection on the ground”.
François Patriat, head of a pro-Macron group in the Senate, said the president would be able to count on around 20 supporters in the chamber.
“In the current context this is strong resistance. This is not a defeat.”
The far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen celebrated its return to the Senate, winning three seats.
Prominent Greens politician Yannick Jadot, who stood in the 2022 presidential elections, won a seat, as did high-profile Communist Ian Brossat who is responsible for housing issues at Paris city hall.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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