Momentum in French Election Appears To Have Shifted in Favor of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally

‘France is coming back’ is the boast among rightists as President Macron lags in the polls.

AP/Michel Euler
The president of France's National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, on June 19, 2024 at Villepinte, north of Paris. AP/Michel Euler

President Macron cannot seem to win — at least, not in the polls. According to the most recent one taken for RTL on Friday, only 26 percent of French citizens surveyed say they have a positive opinion of Monsieur Macron, matching a historic low in 2018. That low approval rating was a 6 percent slip from May. All signs are indicating that Mr. Macron’s liberal Renaissance Party and parliamentary allies will emerge damaged after the first round of a snap legislative election on June 30.

The momentum appears to have shifted in favor of the National Rally after the right-wing party gave Mr. Macron’s liberal centrists a thrashing in European Parliament elections earlier this month. The campaign posters splashed around Paris boast: “France Is Coming Back,” with a cheerful Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella pictured below. The president’s decision to go to early French parliamentary elections is accelerating the right-wing’s path toward political legitimacy. 

For years the National Rally suffered a credibility gap with French voters,  particularly in its previous iteration as the National Front. The party was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is now 96 and whose unvarnished views on immigration and remarks about the Holocaust many construed as antisemitic kept him in the headlines but outside the French political mainstream.  

All that has changed — thanks in no small part to the assiduous efforts of his daughter, Ms. Le Pen, a three-time presidential contender, to steer the National Front to a softer identity as the renamed National Rally. She also had the foresight to back Mr. Bardella as the young face of the party. Even French Jews, prominent Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld among them, are leaning in on the revitalized and rebranded National Rally.

Mr. Bardella, who is not yet 30, assumed the mantle of party chief in November 2022 and now, thanks in part to his youthful image, is cruising toward the heights of the French politician echelon. It is not only due to his telegenic looks and mastery of social media platforms like TikTok — though in a 24/7 news cycle, both help. 

Mr. Bardella, steeped in the nationalist political philosophy of Ms. Le Pen and markedly less strident than her controversial father, knows what kind of France he envisions and has a street-smart sense of what the French want. Often it is the same thing: not only a hard line on illegal immigrants but also an economically sound France free from the shackles of European Union bureaucracy.

A  platform that prioritizes security appears to be resonating with French women. Last week, Mr. Bardella stated that he would be “a prime minister who guarantees the rights and freedoms of every woman and girl in France.” Safety risks on the streets of French cities, which are often linked to illegal immigration, are a big concern, and now polls suggest that more French women are voting for the National Rally than men. 

Despite his young age, Mr. Bardella knows his French history. The message of promoting security that Mr. Bardella is telegraphing to the women of France has an antecedent in the famous pledge King Henri IV made to his ever-peckish populace to put “at least one chicken in every pot.”

Mr. Bardella also faults the EU for “failing to protect the people.” That dovetails with the party’s long-term goal of decoupling France from what is increasingly perceived as the bureaucratic bloat of the European Union.  It is a bloc that for Mr. Bardella may be institutionally incapable of managing what he refers to as “levels of immigration that are absolutely out of control.” 

These are not just platitudes to drum up votes among the more Eurosceptic French. Last week Mr. Bardella said that were he to become the next prime minister, he would cut France’s annual contribution to the EU budget by as much as $3.2 billion. That would amount to 15 percent of the French contribution to the Brussels budget this year, making his suggestion more than just symbolic.

The flip side of the move to gradually defund the EU is a commitment to shore up French business interests. It is a message Mr. Bardella made loud and clear when, along with the head of the conservative Les Républicains party, he addressed France’s largest employer federation, the Mouvement des Entreprises de France, last week with talk of tax cuts. Despite opposition from left-wing parties, the National Rally has, ahead of the first round of voting, formed an alliance with Les Républicains.

Addressing the Medef, a staunchly pro-business group, was something of a coup for Mr. Bardella. It represented another silent dart aimed at Mr. Macron. The French president is now in such a weakened state that he felt compelled to assure the French people, via a letter released over the weekend, that he remains committed to his duties “until May 2027,” which is when his term officially ends. 

Mr. Macron may be committed, but others are far less sure. As Mr. Bardella told Le Journal du Dimanche, “the National Rally is today capable of winning the legislative elections and coming to power in a few days. The pace is picking up, and I believe we can win.”

The New York Sun

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