Hollande Faces New Setback in Loss of France’s Senate Majority

President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government is set to lose its majority in the senate in the latest blow to France’s least-popular president.

Half the 348 seats in the upper chamber are up for grabs on Sept. 28. Because Senators are elected by France’s mayors as well as local and regional councilors, the result is a mechanical outcome of the route suffered by the Socialist party in local elections in March, according to Pascal Perrineau, a politics professor at Sciences-Po in Paris.

French governments are determined by control of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, rather than the Senate, meaning Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his ministers will remain in place after the vote. Yet the defeat serves as a reminder of the political challenge facing Hollande and Valls at a time when the economy is stalled and joblessness is near a record at 3.4 million.

“For the Socialists this is very painful, they’re going from one loss to the next,” Perrineau said. “This is the aftershock of the local elections. The Socialists loss of their majority is almost automatic.”

The Socialists recorded an unprecedented defeat in local elections across France March 30, losing cities including Toulouse, Limoges, Belfort, Reims and Albertville and prompting Hollande to replace then Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault with Valls. The anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front made its best showing ever in the contest, winning power in 12 towns and increasing the number of representatives at local councils to more than 1,500 across the country.

Approval Rating

The rebuff of Hollande was repeated in elections for the European Parliament in May. They won just 14 percent of the vote, compared with 25 percent for the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, and 21 percent by former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement.

Hollande’s approval rating stands at just 13 percent according to multiple polls, the lowest on record since France’s current constitutional structure was put in place in 1958.

The loss of the Socialist majority in the Senate will slow approval of legislation and may prevent changes to the French constitution -- including a reduction in the number of regions proposed by Valls.

The result comes after the Socialist held sway in the upper chamber for just three years, following their victory in Senatorial elections in 2011.

“In 2011, the victory of the left in the senate foreshadowed the winning of the presidential election a year later,” Perrineau said. “Symbolically, control of the senate is very important.”

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