“The Senate is a bit of an anti-urban machine, we try to compensate for the weight of men with the weight of territories,” underlines Jean Viard

We vote this Sunday, September 24. Most of us, no, but the voters yes, for the senatorial elections. Half of the seats in “the upper house”, that’s what the Senate is called, are at stake. Indirect universal suffrage, a social question, deciphered with sociologist Jean Viard.

The electors are called to vote, this Sunday, September 24, to renew half of the seats in the upper house, as the Senate is called. The major voters are the deputies, the senators, the regional councilors, the departmental councilors, and above all, the municipal councilors. This is indirect universal suffrage. A social issue that doesn’t really excite the French, probably because not all of them are called to the polls. The analysis and point of view of sociologist Jean Viard.

franceinfo: The French who do not vote, in the vast majority, for these senatorial elections are a little disinterested in this election… Wrongly?

Jean Viard: Fortunately the King of England went to the Senate this week, so we talked about it a little in the media, and basically, we had the impression that it was two old times curtsying to each other, English monarchy and the Senate are somewhat old structures. But the Senate at the start is actually the place of the commons, and there is a considerable over-representation of the countryside, which means that the senate is always conservative, because the countryside is more “conservative” than the cities.

The Senate is a bit of an anti-urban machine, if we can put it that way, in terms of representativeness. It was built at a time when the countryside was much more populated, when the 36,000 municipalities had many more inhabitants and the majority of the populations lived there. At the same time, something else must be said: the Senate is a place where we work a lot. It always strikes me that Senate committees are real places for reflection. Behind the “old people” side, a lot of old gentlemen, even if it’s changing, there are more and more ladies, so it’s not a room that doesn’t think at all.

The question we are asked is: what does that mean in a world like this? The principle of two houses is the principle of most large democracies. It makes it possible to weigh decisions, so I think that we try to compensate the weight of men by the weight of territories, it’s because it’s also normal that for example, the agricultural world in France, it remains perhaps – being 380,000 farmers and rural villages, it is normal that there is a significant weight, it feeds us, it protects ecosystems, and it is more than the majority of the soil. There are all these debates. But let’s say that the model we have, in fact, is a model that we have tried to change several times. There has been a lot of talk about modernizing it. Nobody ever did it.

And then, in the current context where the Assembly is a place of confrontation, frankly on a playground level, it is clear that indeed, the Senate appears to be a calm, serious place, which actually favors elected, the President of the Senate embodies this model, because it is still France today. That can be discussed.

And this election which is specific to indirect universal suffrage, there too, is it a little out of fashion?

This is debatable because the problem is that we have removed the link between local elected officials and national elected officials. It was good for the National Assembly. The Senate is up for debate. I think very honestly that the Senate, if it brought together the presidents of the general councils, the presidents of the regions and the mayors, for example, of cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, that is to say people who have power , who would make this link, I think the Republic would benefit from it. Even if it means that the Senate is only interested in questions related to territories, or even international agreements. But that we are not obliged to vote on all the subjects again, that it does not have exactly the same objective as the National Assembly, while we, they all discuss, all the laws, twice, so there, there is a debate.

But indeed, the idea that the great notables come together, because it is also in reality the power of cities, departments, regions, these are very essential places of organization, of democracy, of the Republic . So the idea that there are two organizations doesn’t shock me. But there, frankly, when you see certain municipalities, where there are 15 inhabitants left, they will vote for the Senate…

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