Benjamin Morel is a lecturer in public law at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas.
The senatorial elections of Sunday, September 24 have only slightly reshuffled the cards of the High Assembly. If we will have to wait for the composition of the groups to know exactly the balance of power, we note a small decline of the right, especially the LR group. However, this does not call into question the senatorial majority, solidly unified behind Gérard Larcher. However, the latter is increasingly composite. The positions of the Centrist Union and LR on the immigration law bear witness to this. We are thus witnessing the gradual widening of real oppositions between right and centre right. The left won some senators, especially in the communist and green ranks. The Socialist group is holding its own but has been experiencing a gradual decline over time since 2011, which has weakened its hegemony over opposition. The presidential majority loses some feathers, but should see emerge alongside it a Horizons group reshuffling the cards of the balance of power within the cenacle, reduced, of government support in Luxembourg.
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These developments are not without consequences as the second chamber has acquired a structural influence on French political life, especially since the government now needs the Senate. In fact, the second chamber has the possibility of making the life of the government very difficult. By adopting amendments dividing the relative and brittle majority in the lower house, it can play on its points of tension. By prolonging the review, it can allow social or political protest to rise. Above all, the government knows that it needs the senatorial right. The latter has more parliamentarians in the joint committee than the deputies of the majority. However, in view of the fragility of the latter in the Assembly, giving the last word to the lower house has become difficult outside the budgetary texts. The latter was used only three times during the last regular session. Then, submitting texts to the Luxembourg Palace before they arrived at the Assembly became frequent. This allows LR deputies to confront a text already amended by the right and therefore on which an opposition of principle is less obvious. This strategy of collaboration between the government and the Senate majority should continue. The probable gains of Horizon and the Centrist Union should even strengthen it without calling into question the majority anchoring of senators in the opposition to Emmanuel Macron.
In addition, differential participation in local elections leads to an over-representation of pensioners and CSP+. These two factors anchor the Senate not so much on the right as on the centre-right.
The other major fact of the senatorial elections is the breakthrough of the National Rally which will however require the analysis of the complete results when the latter, especially for the departments electing their deputies by proportional representation, will be published. The fact remains that we should not confine ourselves to the three elected senators in this matter. Admittedly, this is a record, but also a poor performance in view of the number of important votes in some departments; up to 10 or 15%. The senatorial elections are unfavourable to the RN. The Senate is often said to be on the right, which is not entirely true. The over-representation of medium-sized municipalities favours in particular a rather affluent rural area, mainly in the west of the France. In addition, differential participation in local elections leads to an over-representation of pensioners and CSP+. These two factors anchor the Senate not so much on the right as on the centre-right. They harm the most polarized formations. Yet a barrier gave way yesterday. For many local elected officials, the RN vote has become possible. The first reason for this is a decline in the ability of the major political parties to predict and control the vote of Grand Electors who were elected without labels or without national affiliation in the last elections. Secondly, the weight of the last general elections must be considered.
For elected officials who have seen their department vote majority RN, not only does this vote no longer represent a risk but could prove to be an electoral argument. Finally, the work of anchoring new MPs who have sacrificed to the traditions of local life (inauguration, local meetings, events...) seems to be taking place. We are thus witnessing a notabilization of RN elected officials who are gradually joining this closed environment of peers that is the senatorial college. The question now is whether this will be accompanied by a lepenisation of the notables. If some of these grand electors being ready to vote RN were likely to rally to the party for the next local elections and assume the label, we would then witness a deep anchoring of the party that would solidify its local position.
The second chamber was designed not to transcribe the cyclical shocks of political life.
Revolutions are slow in the Senate. This is normal, the second chamber has been designed not to transcribe the cyclical shocks of political life. Renewal by third and then by half, indirect universal suffrage based on local elections where the bonus to the incumbent promotes stability, induce a significant latency between political developments and their imprint at the Palais du Luxembourg. However, when they are included, it means that they are structural. The polarization of the right and the rise of the RN, as well as the gradual recomposition of the left with the rise of new forces, have today become facts, on a marginal but structural scale in the Senate, and probably in our political life.