This Sunday, September 24, almost half of the Senate (170 seats out of 348) must be renewed. More than forty parliamentarians have chosen not to run for a new term. Among these leavers, several historical figures who have left their mark on the Senate are closing a chapter in their political lives. Le Figaro focuses on five of them
Last July, modesty prevented her from speaking to say goodbye to the hemicycle. After nineteen years spent without interruption on the benches of the Luxembourg Palace, PCF senator from Seine-Saint-Denis, Éliane Assassi, is attending her last question session with the government. From the top of his “perch”, Gérard Larcher takes the lead in a warm tribute: “With her convictions, her commitment, her attachment to the Republic, her attention to the most modest and the poorest, she perfectly embodies the political family to to which she is so attached, but also a wealth for the Senate and our Republic. Receiving a standing ovation from her colleagues, the person concerned wiped away a few tears that day.
Elected “senator of the year” in 2022, Éliane Assassi became known for her role as co-rapporteur of the vitriolic report on the State’s “sprawling” use of consulting firms. The four-month investigation establishes that nearly 2.5 billion euros of public money was spent in 2021 with these private structures. “It was an exciting adventure. I leave with the feeling of having accomplished my vision,” she confides to Le Figaro. After eleven years at the head of the communist, republican and citizen group (CRCE), the almost retired 64-year-old wants to leave “room for youth”. “She is a passionate woman who has always respected her colleagues. She is part of this generation, which while having been faithful to its values, carried out issues that would not have been possible elsewhere,” praises the UDI senator from the North, Valérie Létard, who will also return the scarf.
Valérie Létard was just 39 years old when she took her first steps in the Senate in 2001. The UDI representative from the North was then among the “youngest” members of an assembly that was still graying. “I arrived with the first promotion resulting from the law on parity. This is where we started to see women and young people arriving little by little with the change in the voting method,” she recalls. After 20 years of service at the Luxembourg Palace, this close friend of Jean-Louis Borloo has chosen to hang up the tricolor scarf. “I didn’t see myself being a senator until I was 80. We also need new ideas and new ways of seeing subjects,” she explains, returning full time to her northern lands.
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In the last months of her mandate, Valérie Létard distinguished herself by her fight against the “zero net artificialization” of soils carried by the executive in its Climate bill. “It was completely inapplicable for the communities. What a senator can do is ensure that the government does not forget that there is real life and the reality of the territories,” she says. After a standoff, the Senate finally obtained “relaxations” to ensure the implementation of the system. “She never gave up on anything politically, she knew what she wanted,” greets the LR president of the Laws Commission, François-Noël Buffet. At 60, the centrist even says she is “still as determined” to make herself useful in her department or “elsewhere”. “I’m starting to get tested by everyone in Europe. But I admit to having no idea what I will do tomorrow,” she confided recently on the set of Public Senate, definitely not ready to retire.
Stacks of files are difficult to balance on his large Questure desk. “All this is for the archives!”, says PS senator from Loiret, Jean-Pierre Sueur. President of the Law Commission (2011-2014) then elected quaestor in 2020, the 76-year-old socialist bows out after twenty-two years spent at the Luxembourg Palace. “I didn’t want to do too much,” he concedes. In his phone, the former mayor of Orléans carefully keeps the images of the tribute paid in the hemicycle by Gérard Larcher. “Jean-Pierre Sueur, 22 years in the Senate, president of the Law Commission, Quaestor. He undoubtedly broke the record for hours spent in the chairs of the hemicycle. We will have to write his complete works!”, launched the tenant of the Petit Luxembourg, followed by thunderous applause.
In his last years in the Upper House, Jean-Pierre Sueur returned to the spotlight in July 2018 when he became co-rapporteur of the commission of inquiry into the Benalla affair. “We played our role. The Constitution gives us two: to pass the law, but also to control the executive,” he says with satisfaction, five years later. The investigation provokes reactions right up to the top of the state, where politically oriented conclusions are denounced. “No line in this report has been called into question,” defends the senator. At 76, the literary scholar now wants to take up his pen again after the publication of several works on Charles Péguy. “I have a few manuscripts in stock that I would like to publish,” he slips.
In twenty-two years, the senator LR of the Meuse, Gérard Longuet, left his mark on the upper assembly. “He was, at the Finance Committee, a speaker who always gave a lot of elevation,” greeted Gérard Larcher at the beginning of July in the hemicycle. In its ranks, the LR president of the Laws Committee, François-Noël Buffet, praises “one of the most intellectually brilliant minds in the Senate”. Three times minister, fifteen years MP, president of the Lorraine region... At 77 years old, this fan of “speaking the truth” therefore kept his word after announcing that he was seeking his last term in 2017.
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The former Minister of Defense (2011-2012) made nuclear power one of the defining battles of his political career, including at the Luxembourg Palace. Among his feats of arms, the former boss of the LR group in the Senate defended the project for the geological storage center for radioactive waste (Cigéo). In 2016, he returned to the charge and tabled a bill to continue the burial of spent fuel in the basement of Bure (Meuse). “Looking back, I tell myself that I was quite useful on a certain number of subjects,” he conceded recently on Public Senate.
During his senatorial adventure, Gérard Longuet scrutinized educational questions in particular. In 2021, he published an alarming report on the lack of attractiveness of the teaching profession. In this harsh observation, the special rapporteur of the “School Education” Mission points to the deterioration of the working conditions of teachers, faced with overcrowded classes.
After the communist Éliane Assassi, the benches of the left are losing yet another figure. “There is a page that is turning, but there will be life in the Senate after us,” Pierre Laurent modestly sweeps away. At 66, the communist senator from Paris leaves “without regret” or “bitterness” the seat he had occupied for twelve years. “The right to retirement is not only defended in the chamber. You also have to take advantage of it,” he laughs. It was at the Palais du Luxembourg that the former national secretary of the PCF (2010-2018) discovered the workings of parliamentary life for the first time. “It’s a lot of memories and emotion,” he says, as he closes his last boxes.
At the head of one of the eight vice-presidencies of the Upper House since 2020, the former editorial director of L'Humanité is familiarizing himself with the backstage of the institution. It was during his time in the Senate that he became passionate about issues relating to West Africa, after joining the Foreign Affairs Committee. An experience that he intends to put to good use in his party in which he will continue to campaign.