Historic win for Bel gives French Senate first socialist speaker

Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

The French upper house has elected its first socialist speaker by a clear majority a week after the left-wing opposition took control of the Senate for the first time in its history 


Jean-Pierre Bel, aged-59, the leader of the Socialist Party group in the Senate since 2004, was elected by 179 votes to 134 for the outgoing right-leaning speaker Gerard Larcher and 29 for centrist Valerie Letard.

Last Sunday’s election saw the Socialist Party and its Green allies win enough seats to take the Senate. The left won 177 seats, two more than an absolute majority.

Bel now becomes the second most important figure in the French state and would take over from the President if necessary.

He used his first speech as speaker to announce the creation of a working party aimed at reforming the upper house.

“We need to change the image of our assembly which should be more transparent and modest,” he said. “We need to move towards a democratic revolution.”

The Socialist Party hopes the Senate win and Bel’s election to speaker is a stepping stone towards victory in next year’s presidential election which is just seven months away.

President Sarkozy is struggling against poor popularity ratings and a widening corruption scandal affecting close aides.

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