As part of the event called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we toured the Sénat, which is one of two legislative houses of the French government, similar to (but also different from) the Senate and House of Representatives in the US. The Sénat represents grass roots France, providing a voice for the governments of all municipalities. It also represents French citizens living abroad, who do not have a voice in the National Assembly. In France the government (the President of the Republic and his ministers) has priority in setting the agenda before the legislative assemblies, though members of the both assemblies may also introduce legislation and time is set aside in their monthly agenda for the discussion of member’s legislation.
There are 348 senators, each elected for a period of 6 years with elections held every 3 years to renew half of the members of the house. Senators are elected indirectly by electoral colleges made up mostly of delegates of municipal councils. The number of senators from any given municipality varies according to its population. The Sénate cannot make the government resign, but Senators can investigate and question ministers of the government. It also has a committee specifically dedicated to the review of legislation and regulations of the European Union. And it also participates in various ways in the international relations of France. Although the President of the Republic can dissolve the National Assembly, he or she must consult with the President of the Sénat prior to doing so. The Sénate cannot be dissolved.
Until an election can be held, the President of the Sénat also is tasked with temporarily replacing the President of the Republic should he die or resign. The President of the Sénat is elected to a 3 year term. There is a managing committee of 25 senators, including 8 deputy speakers, 3 Questers who handle the management and administration of the Sénat, and 14 secretaries who supervise voting. There are 7 standing committees, one of which is assigned to review each new piece of legislation.
Our tour was of the Sénate quarters in the Luxembourg Palace (Palais du Luxembourg), built following the death of King Henry IV by his wife Marie de’ Medici starting in 1612. It was declared a National Palace in 1791 after the Revolution. Our tour started at the Petit Luxembourg, to the west of the Palais du Luxembourg, and connected to it through interior courts. The Petit Luxembourg was the sixteenth-century original hôtel of the duc de Piney-Luxembourg and was rebuilt during the construction of the Luxembourg Palace. It was once the home of Cardinal Richelieu. Since 1958, the Petit-Luxembourg has been the official residence of the President of the French Senate (président du Sénat). We saw the public spaces used by the Sénat President.
Then we proceeded into the Luxembourg Palace and up the grand staircase, through the various salons and offices, through the spectacular library with paintings by Eugene Delacroix and a fabulous view of the gardens, then into the Sénat chambers, then to the huge golden Conference Hall and yet another spectacular space with Sénat Archives. Lastly we saw a short film about the Sénat and toured some of the media spaces. You can see some photos of our tour at this photo tour.