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The Fall of the French Senate

Another defeat for Sarkozy. And maybe the last good reason to vote for him in 2012.

by
Michel Gurfinkiel

Bio

October 8, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Ever since then, nobody has dared to question the Senate’s usefulness or functionality in its present form. However, some change was bound to take place some day, for sheer demographic reasons. Sixty percent of the French still lived in rural areas in 1945; only 22% were left in 2011. Much more relevant, the share of the peasants in the global active population dropped from 40% to 3.3%: most of the residents in contemporary rural areas are in fact engaging in urban professions and living in urbanized settlements. The Senate is thus less and less rooted in traditional France (inasmuch as there is still such a thing), and tends more and more to reflect the mainstream French society. This factor doesn’t necessarily work against the conservative parties, but it deprives them of many unconditionally loyal constituencies.

There was a conservative majority at Luxembourg Palace throughout the Fifth Republic until the very last partial election, which took place on September 25. It’s over now: by a thin margin — 177 seats out of 348 — the Left is in. What does it mean? Not much, one would argue. Neither in constitutional terms, since the Senate plays a marginal role, nor in political terms since these returns were just the mechanical translation of earlier local Left-wing successes.

On the other hand, the fall of the Senate may have considerable symbolic impact on the coming 2012 presidential campaign. It may reinforce a perception of Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president, as a loser, and thus perversely accelerate his defeat next spring. But the opposite might be true as well. Grasp all, lose all: the Left now looks too strong. In addition to the Senate, it controls 60 départements (counties) out of 100, 24 regions out of 27, and 26 of the 38 largest municipalities. If it wins the presidential election as well as the subsequent National Assembly elections (as is usually the case), France will become a de facto one-party country. A dreadful prospect for most French people, including many Socialists or left-of-center sympathizers.

And an incentive to vote for Sarkozy and the Right after all.

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Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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