French nationalists have a young leader

Andrey Yashlavsky

France’s far-right “National Rally” (formerly the “Front National”) elected as its new president, replacing Marine Le Pen, 27-year-old Jordan Bardell, who joined the nationalist party as a teenager and became Marine Le Pen’s protégé.
A young native of the Parisian suburbs, France’s far-right Rally Nationale (RN) has elected its new president to replace Marine Le Pen. As noted by The Guardian, this result means that for the first time since the party – originally the National Front – was created in 1972, it will not be led by Le Pen.
Jordan Bardella, Marine Le Pen’s protégé, who was acting president for a year, defeated 53-year-old Louis Alio, the mayor of Perpignan, a party heavyweight and former partner of Marine Le Pen, by 85% to 15% of the voting members.
When Le Pen announced the result, applause and ovations broke out. The leadership transition comes at a stressful time for the National Rally after a member of the party was suspended from parliament last week for making racist remarks.
Addressing the audience, Marine Le Pen said that after more than a decade, it’s time to make way for someone new. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, handed over the reins in 2011 to the youngest of his three daughters, who changed the name of the Front National at a party conference in 2018.
Marine Le Pen is stepping down as President of the National Rally to focus on managing her actions in the National Assembly (lower house of the French Parliament). She is expected to continue to wield significant power in the party’s leadership.
“I am not leaving the National Association for vacation. I will be where the country needs me,” Le Pen said at a party congress on Saturday. It is expected that in 2027 she will again nominate her candidacy in the presidential elections.
In the legislative elections earlier this year that stripped Emmanuel Macron of his parliamentary majority, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party won a record 89 seats.
Jordan Bardella, known as a good speaker who is rarely seen in public without a tailored navy blue suit and tie, stood in for Le Pen during her campaign for this year’s presidential election, which the far-right leader lost to Macron in the second round in May this year. , repeating the result of the 2017 election.
In February, Bardella was investigated after he called the suburban town of Trap, home to a large immigrant community, an “Islamic republic” in France. He is a staunch Eurosceptic, although Le Pen’s party has stopped campaigning for Frexit (that is, France’s exit from the European Union – by analogy with Brexit).
After the victory of the far-right Brothers of Italy party led by George Meloni in the Italian parliamentary elections, Jordan Bardella called it a “lesson of humility for the European Union”, accusing Brussels of trying to influence the vote. “No threat can stop democracy. The peoples of Europe are raising their heads and taking their fate into their own hands,” he said.
Bardella was born in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Saint-Denis to a French father with Algerian roots and an Italian mother from Turin. He has a privileged and personal relationship with the Le Pen family as his partner is Nolwenn Olivier, Marine Le Pen’s niece.
While Bardella is a staunch hardliner, his internal party election rival Alio has positioned himself as someone who will continue the process of “de-demonization” (i.e., correcting the image) of the party that Marine Le Pen began more than a decade ago.
After Le Pen took over the National Front, she busied herself with cleaning up his reputation, at the time inextricably linked to the xenophobic skinhead neo-Nazi thugs who supported her father. A number of party members were expelled for making racist and anti-Semitic remarks or for defending Philippe Pétain, head of the Vichy French government who collaborated with the Nazis in the 1940s. In 2015, after several warnings about his behavior, Marin even expelled her own father from the party.
Critics said the operation to launder the image of the French nationalists had more to do with style than content, but it worked.
In 2012, Le Pen won 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. In 2017, this figure rose to 21.3%, and in 2022 to 23.15%. In 2014, the National Rally candidate list led by Jordan Bardella won the European elections in France with 24.9% of the vote, sending 25 representatives to the European Parliament.
However, the National Rally was once again at the center of a racist scandal last week as its MP Gregoire de Furnas was expelled from Parliament for two weeks and fined half his salary for two months after shouting “Go back to Africa!” a black member of the lower house posed questions to the government about migrants.
When Le Pen was asked last week who she would support in the party’s leadership race, she declined to answer.
“I said I would remain neutral,” she told Télématin. Speaking to BFMTV, Le Pen added: “There is no difference in [political] line between Jordan Bardella and Louis Alio.”