Senate Elections in France: LREM Better Than Expected, Greens on the Rise

This Sunday, the Senate elections were held under the impact of the worsening Covid-19 pandemic in France. In the run-up to the elections, it was uncertain whether the party of French President Emanuel Macron “LREM” (“La République en Marche”) would suffer another defeat after the poor results of last municipal elections in June this year.

For the time being, power dynamics will not change within the current second legislative chamber. LREM was able to stabilise, avert an impending defeat and surprisingly defend the most important seats, such as that of the Minister for French Overseas Territories (Ministère des Outre-mer), Sebastien Lecornu. The party itself seems to be surprised by this outcome, since a drop in the number of seats was firmly expected, according to François Patriat, the LREM’s leader in the Senate. What is certain is that the party has not gained any new seats and several of its senators have not stood for re-election. It remains to be seen to what extent the LREM group will rename and restructure itself within the Senate, as evident in current discussions to cooperate with other micro-factions, such as the independent but Macron-compatible centrist group of “Indépendants, Républiques et Territoires”.

The conservative-established parties such as the Gaullist Right (“LR-les Républicains”) and the conservative Centrists (“Union Centriste”) have been able to defend their clear majority and, in the case of the Republicans, have even won some new seats. Christine Lavarde (LR), senator for the department of Hauts-de-Seine, was confident that the Senate could continue to act as a conservative counterweight to the presidential majority party LREM. Another aspect illustrating the traditional stance of the Senate is the distribution of men and women within the second legislative period: the proportion of women has even fallen slightly to just 33%.

The election result of the French Green Party EELV (“Europe Écologie Les Verts”) was also awaited with interest after the party’s comparatively strong performance in the municipal elections. As a matter of fact, six new Green senators were elected to the Senate. The Green forces within the Senate left wing are thus able to increase the number of their deputies from five to eleven and significantly increase their political weight. This is especially true in view of the fact that the Socialist Party has lost as many as six senators and now has only 65 instead of 71 senators left in office. The weakness of the Socialists was  exploited by the Communists, who managed to gain two senators. On the right, the radical right-wing party RN (Rassemblement National) was able to defend its single Senate seat.

All in all, the Senate elections have shown that, despite the optimistic mood of 2017 for LREM and the growing strength of the Greens, traditional parties with conservative policy proposals remain firmly anchored in the perceptions of the rural population. So far, the presidential party has  not succeeded in establishing a real counter-strategy at the local level to rob the forces on the left and right of their appeal. This will remain a future challenge for LREM in view of the upcoming regional elections in 2021.

Jeanette Süß

European Affairs Manager