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Composition and election
The French Senate presently has 321 senators who are elected for a 9-year term. This will change in September 2004. The mandate will be reduced to 6 years while the number of senators will progressively increase to 346 in 2010 in order to reflect changes in the French demography.
Senators are elected by approximately 150,000 representatives of local administrative councils (and deputies of the National Assembly). This system introduces a bias in the composition of the Senate, which favors rural areas. As a consequence, while the political majority changes frequently in the National Assembly, the Senate has remained conservative since the foundation of the Fifth Republic, and it is expected that it will remain so in the forthcoming years.
According to the French Constitution, the Senate has almost the same powers as the National Assembly. Bills may be submitted by the government ("projets de loi" or law projects) or by each house of the Parliament ("propositions de loi" or law proposals). Both houses must adopt the law before it can be promulgated.
Because both houses may amend the bill, it may take several readings to reach an agreement between the National Assembly and the Senate. When the Senate and the National Assembly cannot agree on a bill, the government can decide, after a complex procedure called commission mixte paritaire, to give the final decision to the National Assembly, which majority is normally on the government's side. This does not happen frequently: most of the time both houses eventually agree on the bill, or the government decides to withdraw it. However, this power gives the National Assembly a prominent role in the law-making process.
The Senate also participates in controlling the government's action by publishing many reports every year on various topics.
Because the Senate represents rural areas in higher proportion than their importance in the French population, it has been criticized as an undemocratic institution; reform has been suggested. This is especially compounded by the Senate consistently having a right-wing majority, regardless of the alternation of parties in the presidency and the National Assembly. Then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin denounced the Senate as an "anachronism".
The Senate is housed inside the Luxembourg Palace in the 6th arrondissement of Paris and is guarded by Republican Guards. In front of the building lay the Senate's garden, the Luxembourg Garden, open to the public.
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