Fresh faces take a seat in France’s National Assembly
France’s new slate of lower-house lawmakers sit in the National Assembly for the first time on Tuesday to open the 16th Legislature. An astonishing surge of far-right and leftist winners in elections this month not only deprived centre-right Emmanuel Macron of an absolute legislative majority; it also provided some of the new chamber’s most unusual profiles. Some stand as symbolic outliers while others illustrate genuine trends. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the most noteworthy novices.
The new guard: Tematai Le Gayic and Louis Boyard, 21
Two of the new lawmakers taking their seats this week weren’t old enough to vote during France’s previous legislative elections in 2017. Tematai Le Gayic, elected in French Polynesia, and Louis Boyard, elected in suburban Paris, were both born in 2000. Taking office aged 21, they will be the youngest deputies to serve in the National Assembly, beating the previous record held by far-right scion Marion Maréchal, Marine Le Pen’s niece, who was 22 when she was elected for the National Front in 2012.
Both young men are part of the leftist wave in the new chamber. Le Gayic, who ran as a Polynesian independence candidate, and Boyard for the far-left La France Insoumise (“France Unbowed” or LFI) are backed by the pan-leftist NUPES coalition.
Among the 118 of 577 deputies under 40, the pair are the figureheads of a National Assembly ever so slightly younger to begin this legislature (average age 48.5 compared to 48.8 in 2017), confirming a youthful trend after 2012’s batch averaged a relatively grizzled 54.6 years of age.
Boyard’s LFI leads the charge, with the far-left party boasting the youngest slate of lawmakers at 41.2 years old, according to a FRANCE 24 tally, just under the French population’s average age of 42.2. The far-right National Rally is the party with the third-youngest lawmakers (after the Greens), averaging 45.6 years of age.
Researcher Bruno Cautrès, who co-authored a review on the subject for Le Monde, attributes National Rally legislators’ relative youthfulness to the party’s thinness on the ground as the party leapt to 89 deputies elected this month compared to just eight in 2017. “This party does not have a reservoir of local elected executives,” wrote Cautrès, a specialist at Sciences Po’s CEVIPOF research centre. “More often than not, the RN’s leaders designated local party activists as candidates without truly believing in their chances at winning election.”
Young candidates aren’t necessarily chosen for youth’s sake but for what they bring to the table. “I think LFI and the RN try more to find candidates who can break institutional codes when they speak. And for that, who’s better placed than young people?” said Armel Le Coz, who co-founded a group called Démocratie Ouverte (“Open Democracy”) to promote institutional renewal. “Take Louis Boyard. Originally, he was an influencer speaking to his community. He breaks the codes to show another kind of politics is possible.”
Anecdotally, this legislature also sees its first influx of Kevins. The Irish first name counts as a significant age marker in France, where it enjoyed short-lived but wild popularity in the early 1990s (credit Kevin Costner dancing with wolves). Kévin Pfeffer, 32, and Kévin Mauvieux, both elected under the far-right National Rally banner, are the chamber’s first-ever Kevins. Meanwhile, the lower house bids goodbye to its Bernards, a moniker associated in France with the senior set; no Bernard of the eight elected in 2017 will sit in the legislature this time.
The doyen: José Gonzalez, 79
José Gonzalez, doyen de l’Assemblée nationale, présidera mardi la première séance de la XVIe législature. C’est une immense fierté pour notre mouvement ! pic.twitter.com/j2agPB48YR
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) June 23, 2022
The far-right National Rally, meanwhile, can also boast of having the oldest of the 577 lawmakers elected to the chamber in June’s elections. José Gonzalez, 79, handily beat a 32-year-old NUPES candidate to win his Bouches-du-Rhône district on June 19.
>> What next?: Legislative election upset complicates France’s political timetable
Being the doyen of the new lower house confers one significant privilege: it falls to Gonzalez to preside over the opening session of the new legislature from 3pm on Tuesday. Gonzalez is far from the oldest doyen the National Assembly has ever seen – aeronautics magnate Marcel Dassault was 94 when he was elected deputy for a ninth time in 1986 (and died two weeks into the legislature). But Gonzalez is the first-ever to qualify as doyen after winning a seat for the first time. Previously an elected official in suburban Marseille, Gonzalez will indeed enjoy the best seat in the house, gavel in hand, for his first-ever session in the National Assembly.
The invisible made visible: Rachel Keke, 48
Ivory Coast-born former chambermaid Rachel Keke made headlines far and wide when she beat Macron’s former sports minister to win her suburban Paris seat. A far-left LFI candidate, she was running under the NUPES coalition banner.
Keke was among some 20 chambermaids who defied their employers at a northeastern Paris hotel in 2019, waging a gruelling but ultimately successful 22-month-long battle for better pay and working conditions. The mother of five had come to France at the age of 26 in 2000 and became a symbol, 22 years later, as the quintessential working-class candidate in these elections.
“I am the voice of the voiceless,” Keke said after the votes were counted on June 19. “I am a maid, I am a cleaner, security guard, care assistant, home help, I am all these invisible jobs,” she added.
Keke is in fact one of at least three former cleaners to take her seat in the chamber this week, along with new RN lawmakers Lisette Pollet, 54, and Katiana Levavasseur, 51. Other working-class legislators, like 29-year-old delivery driver Jorys Bovet (RN) and 31-year-old call centre worker Andy Kerbrat (LFI) also stand out in the headlines. But their election may say more about their parties than it does about the overall makeup of the National Assembly. Labourers and employees remain heavily underrepresented in the lower-house chamber (0.9 and 4.5 percent, respectively, compared to 12.1 percent and 16.1 percent in the general French population). But in this legislature, left-wingers and far-right lawmakers manage to get closer to the French norm (with 2 and 7 percent, respectively, for the NUPES; 7 and 11 percent for the RN).
“We see clearly that the deputies from the presidential majority, from (the conservative) Les Républicains and the Socialist Party generally hail from higher social strata. But that’s less the case for National Rally and La France Insoumise deputies,” said CNRS sociologist Sébastien Michon. “The RN and LFI electorate is more working class or more entrenched in the intermediate categories. There’s a logic in wanting to stand candidates that resemble one’s electorate,” added Michon, who specialises in the sociology of political personnel.
Naturalised as a French citizen in 2015, Keke also stands out on that score. According to FRANCE 24’s own tally, setting aside the 27 deputies elected in French overseas territories, 32 of the 550 remaining deputies (5.8 percent) in the new legislature have at least one parent born abroad or in those overseas territories, not counting so-called pied-noir families that left Algeria when it gained independence from France. LFI leads the pack with 14.6 percent of its new slate of deputies on that standard, while no lawmakers from the National Rally or Les Républicains fit the bill.
>> Read more: National Assembly gradually reflects ‘diversity of the French street’
The 32-of-550 count represents a slight drop from 2017, when lawmakers from diverse backgrounds tripled their numbers in the space of a single legislative term.
“That stagnation hides progress,” said Patrick Lozès, president and founder of the Representative Council of France’s Black Associations, who sees the numbers stabilising after what he calls a “windfall effect” in 2017, which put diversity candidates for Macron’s fledgling La République en Marche into the chamber who hadn’t necessarily been expected to win seats. Lozès notes that since he ran for a National Assembly seat himself in 2002 as one of only a handful of diversity candidates, “Things have totally evolved.”
Law enforcer turned lawmaker: Antoine Villedieu, 33
Another candidate who will stand out on the benches of the National Assembly for his jobs – not to mention his stature – Antoine Villedieu won election for the National Rally in the Haute-Saône, eastern France. A two-time Mixed Martial Arts world champion, Villedieu is one of no fewer than four police officers elected under the far-right banner alone, according to one count, alongside Romain Baubry, 33, Michaël Taverne, 43, and Stéphane Rambaud, 62, a father of seven who retired after 37 years as a cop. They, too, ostensibly bring the law-and-order National Rally’s representatives in parliament into line with their electorate, as research has shown French law enforcement professionals tend to vote far-right disproportionately compared to the rest of the population.
Opening eyes: José Beaurain, 50
New National Rally lawmaker José Beaurain stands out not so much for his working-class chops or his combat prowess – although as a piano tuner and former bodybuilding champion, he could hold his weight on both counts. Instead, Beaurain will make history when legislature opens on Tuesday as the first blind lawmaker elected to the National Assembly. Born with congenital glaucoma, Beaurain was visually impaired all his life, but lost his sight completely in 2008. He credits bodybuilding with helping him out of a rough patch after his sight left him for good. Beaurain had served as a city councillor in Chauny, a city of 12,000, northern France, before running for a legislator’s seat in 2022. On June 19, he handily defeated the centre-right incumbent in his Aisne district and said he wants to “open people’s eyes” about disabilities, pun evidently intended.
“I didn’t use my blindness for this campaign, but it is a part of me,” Beaurain told regional newspaper L’Union. “But if this handicap can serve me to put forward projects in the National Assembly, I think on that point I can say simply that I know what I’m talking about,” he added.
Fellow newcomer Sébastien Peytavie, 40, elected as an ecology candidate in the Dordogne under the pan-leftist NUPES banner, can say the same. Peytavie, who lost the use of his legs as a toddler after a heart operation gone wrong, will reportedly be the first deputy to serve in a wheelchair. Suffice it to say that the 18th-century Palais Bourbon, where the terraced semi-circular chamber is located in central Paris, is not yet disability friendly. Peytavie says he will be seated on the lowest level of the chamber, next to the government’s ministers, with an electronic voting box, a tablet and a microphone installed for his use.
A family affair: Pierre Cazeneuve, 27
When Pierre Cazeneuve takes his seat among the chamber’s 577 deputies on Tuesday – ranked in alphabetical order as lawmakers always are for a legislature’s opening session – he will be seated next to his father Jean-René Cazeneuve, 64. No relation to recent French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the father-and-son duo aren’t apt to clash over policy on the house floor: they both won office under the banner of Macron’s La République en Marche, with Jean-René winning re-election in the Gers, southwestern France, after a career as top executive with tech firms like Apple and Bouygues, and former Macron staffer Pierre winning for the first time in suburban Paris. Indeed, Pierre’s sister Marguerite also served in the Elysée Palace as advisor to Macron; his sister’s partner, Aurélien Rousseau, is Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne’s chief of staff.
“I’m actually pretty proud. But it feeds a sort of suspicion. Paradoxically it’s a bit of a handicap today,” Jean-René told Agence France-Presse, saying his adversaries were distributing “shameless” leaflets knocking what one leftist opponent disparaged as “the family firm”.
Son Pierre, meanwhile, says each of the Cazeneuves won his seat under separate circumstances in distant districts. “They are two politically distinct situations, very compartmentalised, and that’s just fine,” he told AFP.
The Cazeneuves aren’t the first family duo to serve at the National Assembly, although it is rare. Conservative Alain Marleix and his son Olivier, Les Républicains’ new house leader, served together in 2012.
Romantic partners have famously won office together, like Socialists François Hollande and Ségolène Royal in 1988. This legislature will also see LFI heavyweights with family ties sitting in the lower house; newly elected Raquel Garrido and the re-elected Alexis Corbière have three daughters together.
But the record may go to the Debré family, with Bernard and Jean-Louis joining their father, former prime minister Michel Debré, in 1986 to form a trio of conservative deputies in the National Assembly.