THE FRENCH SENATE
The French Senate is an additional parliamentary assembly provided for under the Constitution. It has specific missions :
- representation of France's territorial areas;
- representation of French people abroad.
321 senators elected by indirect vote as follows (346 according to the progressive enforcement of the 2003 reform) :
309 representing local authorities :
- 304 (1) seats for the metropolitan and overseas departments as follows :
296 for the metropolitan departments
(317 according to the 2003 reform) ;
8 for the overseas departments
(9 according to the 2003 reform) ;
- 2 for the overseas territorial areas of Mayotte and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (3 according to the 2003 reform) ;
- 3 for the overseas territories of French Polynesia and Wallis-et-Futuna, and of New Caledonia (5 according to the 2003 reform) ;
12 senators representing French people abroad.
Like deputies, senators vote in a personal capacity.
(1) 326 according to the 2003 reform - Law N° 2003-696 dated 30/7/2003 (on a transitional basis, these seats will be 313 in 2004 and 322 in 2007).
1) Senators representing the territorial areas by a college made up of the deputies, regional councillors and general councillors of each department, and of representatives of municipal councils, their numbers varying according to the size of the population of the authorities concerned, and of the workforce of the municipal councils.
2) Senators representing French people abroad are elected by an electoral college made up of members in turn elected by the Conseil supérieur des français de l'étranger (Higher council for French people living abroad).
Mixed method of voting:
1) two-ballot majority voting in departments electing 1-2 senators (97 seats ; one third of the total - 1 to 3 senators as from the 2004 partial re-election - law N° 2003-697 dated 30/7/2003);
2) Proportional representation according to the highest average in departments electing 3 or more senators (4 senators or more as from the 2004 partial re-election - law n° 2003-697 dated 30/7/2003).
The 12 senators representing French people abroad are elected by proportional representation.
Lists shall include alternatively a candidate of each gender (law n° 2000-493 dated 6/6/2000).
Altogether 224 (two-thirds) seats are elected by proportional representation According to the 2003 reform, about 50 % of the seats elected depending on each voting system.
Term of office: 9 years, renewable (by one third of the seats) every three years (as from the 2004 partial re-election, 6 years renewable by half every three years. As a provisional measure for the 2004 partial re-election, some of the current C-category seats, then renewable, will have a 6-year term of office, and the others 9 years, by drawing lots).
Most recent election: 23 September 2001
Age of eligibility : 35 years (30 years as from the 2004 partial re-election).
Features of incompatibility: mainly the functions of members of the government and of the Constitutional Council are incompatible with those of a member of Parliament.
Disputes relating to the election of senators falls within the competence of the Constitutional Council.
A - ORDINARY SESSION
There is one ordinary session a year: it begins on the first working day in October and ends on the last working day in June.
The number of days that each assembly sits during an ordinary session may not exceed 120. Weeks of sittings are fixed by each assembly: the Parliament normally goes into recess for three weeks from late December to early January, for one week in February and for two weeks in March.
The Prime Minister, following consultation with the President of the assembly concerned, or a majority of members of each assembly may decide to sit on additional days. Like the National Assembly, the Senate meets as of right on additional days to enable it to vote on the suspension or detention of a member, or the introduction of measures depriving a member of his/her freedoms, or else restricting them.
The days on which the assemblies sit and the working hours are determined by their respective Regulations. The Senate's Regulations state it should normally sit in public on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday every week: on Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9.30am to 1.00pm, and in the afternoons from 4.00pm (Tuesday) and 3.00pm (Wednesday and Thursday) until 8.00pm. The Senate may prolong its public sittings on the proposal of the Conference of Presidents, the Government or the commission concerned.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
The Parliament meets in extraordinary session at the request of the Prime Minister or of a majority of the members of the National Assembly, and works to a pre-determined agenda.
When an extraordinary session is held at the request of deputies, the closure decree applies as soon as the Parliament completes the agenda it was convened to discuss, and no more than 12 days after the meeting.
The Prime Minister alone may ask for an additional session before the end of the month following the closure decree.
Extraordinary sessions are opened and closed by ordinance of the President of the Republic.
C - Sessions as of right
1) The Parliament meets as of right when Article 16 of the Constitution applies (this provides the President of the Republic with special powers when the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the nation, the safety of French territory and the completion of international commitments is under serious and immediate threat, and when the normal operation of constitutional Government is interrupted).
2) 15-day session as of right on the second Thursday after the legislative elections that take place after dissolution of the National Assembly, a session being `as of right' for a period of 15 days if this meeting takes place outside the period provided the ordinary session.
3) When it does not sit, the Parliament shall meet as of right to listen to the message the President of the Republic would have decided to adress in application of Article 18 of the Constitution.
A - LEGISLATIVE POWERS
1) The right to propose legislation
Senators, together with the Prime Minister and deputies have the right to propose legislation.
However, draft laws lodged by parliamentarians are not admissible if adoption would result in a reduction in public resources, or the establishment of, or increase in, a public charge.
2) Right of amendment
Senators, together with the Government and deputies, have the right to move amendments.
However, amendments lodged by parliamentarians are not admissible if adoption would result in a reduction in public resources, or the establishment of, or increase in, a public charge.
3) Legislative procedure
a) Ordinary procedure
Government bills are lodged in the Office of one of the two assemblies, except in the case of bills dealing with finance and social security funding; these are examined in the first instance by the National Assembly.
Government and private bills are sent for examination to one of the six standing commissions or to a commission specially set up for that purpose.
All government and private bills are examined in turn by the two assemblies with a view to adopting identical wording.
In the event of persistent disagreement after two readings in each assembly (after one reading when the Government has stated that the matter is urgent), the Prime Minister may call a meeting of a joint commission made up of seven senators and seven deputies: this commission has the task of producing a text on the provisions that remain under discussion.
The text produced by the joint National Assembly-Senate commission may be submitted by the Government to the two assemblies for their approval. No amendment is admissible except with the Government's agreement.
If the joint commission fails to agree a document, or if the text it produces is not adopted by both assemblies, the Government may, after the two chambers have given it another reading, ask the National Assembly to make a definitive ruling. In such circumstances, the National Assembly may only refer to the text that has been drawn up by the joint commission, or the version that has most recently voted on by the National Assembly and possibly altered by way of one or more amendments adopted by the Senate.
The President of the Republic promulgates the law during the 15 days after the Government publishes the text that is finally adopted.
b) Special measures relating to the adoption of organic laws
A government or private bill may not be debated or voted on for 15 days after it has been lodged.
In the event of disagreement between the two assemblies, the bill may only be adopted by the National Assembly on the final reading by an absolute majority of the members.
Organic laws relating to the Senate may be voted on by both assemblies in identical terms.
c) Special measures relating to finance bills
The Senate has 20 days at the first reading to examine the finance bill. The emergency procedure applies.
If the National Assembly does not reach a decision at the first reading within 40 days of the bill being lodged, the Government refers the matter to the Senate which must give a ruling within 15 days.
If the Parliament does not reach a decision within 70 days, draft laws may be brought into force by ordinance.
Time-limits are suspended during the parliamentary recess.
d) Special measures relating to legislation on social security funding
On the first reading, the Senate must reach a decision within 15 days of receiving the bill. The emergency procedure applies.
If the National Assembly has not given a ruling on the first reading within 20 days of the bill being lodged, the Government sends the Senate the text that it initially presented, possibly altered by way of amendments voted by the National Assembly and accepted by it. The Senate must reach its decision within15 days.
If, during the first reading, the Senate has not voted on the whole bill within 15 days, the Government again sends the National Assembly the bill that was sent to the Senate, and possibly altered by way of amendments voted by the Senate and accepted by it.
If the Parliament has not reached a decision within 50 days, the bill may be brought into force by ordinance.
These time-limits are suspended when the Parliament is in recess, and in the case of each assembly, during the weeks when they are not in session.
e) Fresh consideration
The President of the Republic may, before the time-limit for promulgation expires, ask the Parliament for the law or some of its articles to examined again.
4) Enabling legislation
The Government may, for the purposes of implementing its programme, ask Parliament for authorisation for a limited period to issue an ordinance covering measures that are normally dealt with by the law. Ordinances come into force as soon as they are published, but they are rendered null and void if the draft ratification law is not presented to Parliament by the date fixed by the Enabling Law.
When the enabling period expires, ordinances may only be amended by law in areas that lie within the legislative domain.
5) Legislative referendum
The President of the Republic may, on the proposal of the Government when the assemblies are sitting, or on the joint proposal of both assemblies, have a referendum on any bill dealing with the organisation of Government, reform of the country's economic or social policy, or public services, or authorising the ratification of a treaty which, while not contradicting the Constitution, might have implications for the operation of institutions.
When a referendum is organised at the Government's suggestion, the Government makes a statement to each assembly, and this is followed by a debate
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
The Government is responsible to Parliament, but it only answers for its actions to the National Assembly; the latter alone has the power to censure the Government.
1) Right to information
Under the terms of the Constitution, one sitting a week is given over to questions from members of the Parliament and to the Government's replies.
In addition to the weekly sitting on Tuesday morning that is given over to oral questions without debate, the Senate organises sittings featuring oral questions followed by debate; some of them focus on European matters. Twice a month, there is also a one-hour session given over to questions for the Government on current issues; it is screened live on the public channel `France 3'.
Senators may additionally ask the Government written questions: 8,132 were received during the 1998-1999 session; of these, 7007 received replies.
The Senate may ask for debates to be timetabled for Government statements.
c) The information-giving mission of standing commissions
With regard to information, common-law competence is devolved to the standing commissions so as to enable the Senate to monitor Government policy. To this end, the commissions may establish working groups, fulfil its mission of disseminating information, and organise hearings.
Refusal to answer a summons by a commission is punishable by a fine of 50,000 francs, except where it affects either secrets involving national defence, foreign affairs, and the internal and external security of the State, or respect for the independence of justice.
2) The Prime Minister may ask the Senate to approve a statement of general policy.
3) Powers of investigation
a) Commissions of inquiry
The Senate may set up short-term commissions of inquiry that may sit for no more than six months, and which have the task of `collating information on given facts, or else on the management of public services and national enterprises.'
People whom the commission would like to hear from, but who do not respond to summonses, are liable to two years' imprisonment and a 50,000 franc fine. Rapporteurs perform their duties by sifting evidence on the spot.
b) Investigations by standing commissions
- Exercising powers of inquiry
Standing commissions may, in respect of a given mission and for a period not exceeding six months, ask their assembly for the right to make use of the prerogatives of a commission of inquiry.
'- Monitoring the implementation of laws
Since 1972, in accordance with a decision of the Office of the Senate, standing commissions monitor the regulatory implementation of laws in respect of all laws that have been passed.
f- Monitoring public enterprises
This monitoring is carried out by commissions whose competences encompass the area of activity of a given national enterprise of joint venture; the commissions appoint rapporteurs to monitor and assess the management of these companies.
Rapporteurs have special reports from the Revenue Court, they can insist on seeing any documentation relating to the functioning of enterprises being monitored by them. They also have powers to investigate evidence in situ.
c) Monitoring implementation of the finance law
Special rapporteurs of the finance commission `monitor evidence relating to loans in situ on an ongoing basis.' Except in the case of secrets concerning national defence, foreign affairs, the internal and external security of the State, and respect for the independence of justice, special rapporteurs may insist on seeing documentation of any sort.
The Revenue Court assists the Parliament in monitoring implementation of the finance law, and conducts inquiries when requested to do so by the Finance Commission.
The same provisions apply to the Social Affairs Commission and its rapporteurs in monitoring implementation of the social security funding legislation.
4) The growing importance of evaluation
Since the early 1980s, the parliament has developed its own capacity for assessment by setting up units that may also call on independent experts.
The first in-house evaluation unit was established in 1983 through the Office parlementaire d'évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques (Parliamentary office for the evaluation of scientific and technological choices): this has the task of informing Parliament of the consequences of making choices in these areas. To this end, the unit (it works for both assemblies) `collates information, carries out research programmes and conducts assessments.'
Two more units, both of which similarly work for both assemblies, were set up in 1996. They were:
- the legislation assessment office, which collates information and carries out research with a view both to assessing the appropriateness of legislation to the situations it covers, and to simplifying laws;
- the public policy assessment office.
In addition, two new delegations have been recently set up. They focus on women's rights and equal opportunities for men and women, and planning and the sustainable development of the country.
5) Monitoring European integration
For the purposes of monitoring European integration, the Senate has equipped itself with instruments over and above resources devolved to the Parliament by the Constitution and the law.
a) Resources available to the assemblies
- In 1979, a delegation was established in each assembly with the task of monitoring the work of European institutions and providing the assemblies with information. The Government sends it copies of all draft legislation, and keeps it informed of all current negotiations.
'- Since 1992, Parliament has exercised the power to monitor the Government and its actions in the Council of the Communities through the vote on resolutions, which enables it to express its position.
To enable the Senate to give its views in due course on the most important legislation, the delegation carries out systematic examinations of draft EC law with a view to identifying which might require an intervention from the Senate.
b) Exceptional resources for strengthening the Senate's supervisory powers
- Oral questions on Europe followed by debat
Since 1995, the Senate and the Government have taken stock of European issues through a special procedure triggered two or three times a year, and involving oral questions on Europe followed by debate.
'- The Senate's listening-post in Brussels
The Senate has a permanent listening-post in Brussels that enables it to intervene at an earlier stage when trying to influence EC decisions. This gives Senators quicker access to the information they need when adopting European resolutions.
This listening-post also advises local authorities on matters relating to the awarding of EC aid (i.e. structural funds).
6) The international area
The following may only be ratified or approved by a law: peace treaties, commercial treaties, treaties and agreements that relate to international organisation or State finances, modify statutory provisions, or concern individuals or the transfer, exchange or addition of land.
C - RELATIONS WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The President of the Republic communicates with the assemblies by means of messages that he has read out, and which do not give rise to any discussion. During the recess, Parliament is convened especially for this purpose.
D - GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT OF ACCESS
Members of the Government have access to both assemblies. They are heard when they so request. They may be assisted by government commissioners.
E - ONE SITTING A MONTH IS GIVEN OVER TO AN AGENDA DECIDED BY THE SENATE (the same applies to the National Assembly).
A - REVIEW OF THE CONSTITUTION
Senators, together with the President of the Republic (on the proposal of the Prime Minister) and deputies may initiate a review of the Constitution.
Government and private bills (parliamentary initiative) to review the Constitution must be voted by both assemblies in identical terms. A review is definitive after it has been approved by a referendum.
However, a draft review is not the subject of a referendum if the President of the Republic submits it to Parliament meeting in congress; then, the bill is only approved if it obtains a three-fifths majority of votes cast. The Office of Congress is the same as that of the National Assembly.
3) Conditions affecting the review procedure
No review procedure may be initiated or sustained if it threatens the country's integrity. This also applies at a time when the office of the President of the Republic is vacant, or during the period between the final declaration of the President's impeachment and the election of his successor.
The Republican form of government may not be reviewed.
B - THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
The President of the Senate is elected after every partial election.
2) Deputising for the President of the Republic
If the post of the President of the Republic is vacant for any reason, or because of impeachment following proceedings by the Constitutional Council after the Government has referred the matter to it, and by an absolute majority of the members, the functions of the President of the Republic (except for the power to dissolve the National Assembly and organise a referendum) are temporarily carried out by the President of the Senate.
3) The President of the Senate is consulted by the President of the Republic:
- before dissolution of the National Assembly;
- before implementation of exceptional powers under Article 16 of the Constitution.
C - MONITORING OF CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES
1) The President of the Senate or 60 senators (together with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly or 60 deputies) may refer the conformity of the following to the Constitutional Council:
- laws prior to their promulgation;
- international treaties and agreements before authorisation to ratify or approve them.
2) Before organic laws are promulgated, they must be submitted to the Constitutional Council, which will rule whether they conform to the Constitution.
3) The same provisions apply to the Regulations of the parliamentary assemblies before they are implemented.
D - DECLARATION OF WAR IS AUTHORISED BY PARLIAMENT.
E - PROROGATION OF THE STATE OF SIEGE (decreed in the Council of Ministers) for more than 12 days may only be authorised by Parliament.
F - JUDICIAL POWERS
1) Concerning the President of the Republic
The President of the Republic may be indicted for high treason by both assemblies by a vote that is identical to votes cast by the public and an absolute majority of the members of both houses.
b) Competent jurisdiction
The High Court of Justice consists of members elected from their number by the National Assembly and the Senate after every general and partial election. The High Court elects its President from among its members.
2) Concerning members of the government
a) Punishable offences and competence
The High Court of Justice of the Republic tries members of the government for actions performed in the exercise of their functions, and deemed to be crimes or offences at the time they were carried out.
The High Court is bound by the definition of crimes and offences, and by punishments as determined by the law.
b) Composition of the Court of Justice of the Republic
The Court of Justice of the Republic consists of 15 judges: 12 are parliamentarians elected in equal numbers from members of the National Assembly and the Senate after every general and partial election, and 3 are Magistrates of the Court of Appeal (Cour de Cassation); one of these acts as President.
G - POWERS OF NOMINATION
In particular, the President of the Senate nominates:
- three members of the Constitutional Council;
- one member of the High Council of the Judiciary;
- one member of the National Commission for Information Technology and Freedoms;
- three members of the National Audiovisual Council;
- one member of the Commission for Stock Market Operations;
- one member of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.