Jordan Bardella accelerates the path to power of France’s far right

The 28-year-old candidate to be prime minister has completed the process of ‘de-demonization’ of the National Rally initiated by its leader, Marine Le Pen, more than a decade ago. The results of the first round of voting for the French National Assembly on Sunday puts the party closer than ever to government

Jordan Bardella
Jordan Bardella, candidate of the National Rally, on Sunday after the polls awarded victory to his party.Sarah Meyssonnier (REUTERS)
Silvia Ayuso

Everything in the life of Jordan Bardella, 28, has been accelerating. And it’s going to be difficult to stop him now. In a week he could become the new prime minister of France for the National Rally (RN) party led by Marine Le Pen. If so, it would bring the euroskeptical and anti-immigrant far right to power for the first time democratically in a country that prides itself on being the cradle of human rights.

If, on July 7, in the second and final round of voting for the French National Assembly, the polls confirm the advantage obtained this Sunday in the first round, Bardella will have advanced by almost three years his party’s project to conquer power in the 2027 presidential elections. It would be more acceleration in the dazzling career of a young man who joined the RN at the age of 16, was spokesperson for the party at the age of 22, France’s youngest member of the European Parliament at the age of 23, and party president since the age of 26.

And if he now manages to lead the first cohabitation government that includes the far right, he will be adding a new milestone at 28 years of age. He would be the youngest prime minister of the Fifth Republic, snatching not only the job but also the youth record from the outgoing prime minister and Macronist candidate, Gabriel Attal, 35.

The RN’s strong result in the first round of voting on Sunday is, to a large extent, the fruit of the party’s “de-demonization” that Le Pen herself undertook more than a decade ago. But the success is also partly attributable to Bardella, who has given the definitive push to this process of normalization of a party that had been rejected until now by large sectors of the population and by the French establishment.

Not anymore. In the two weeks of campaigning, an always smartly-dressed Bardella — wearing suits to reflect the image of credibility that the RN wants to give out — has moved with ease through all stages and layers of society. He has been a fixture on television sets: according to a media investigation, he has appeared every three days on at least one radio or television show in the country. He has also rubbed shoulders with the Medef employers’ association. And he has been seen in other centers of influence and power such as Eurosatory, one of the main weapons fairs in the world and a magnet for senior political and defense officials.

“He is a very nice boy who has understood the problems of the French very well,” said a French military industrialist who accompanied him during the two-hour visit to French arms companies, while soldiers and defense officials followed him enthusiastically.

His presence at Eurosatory is not an innocuous detail for those seeking to erase the pro-Russian fame of the RN. During the 2017 presidential campaign, Le Pen met with President Vladimir Putin, and her party was financed with Russian and Hungarian credit lines. Bardella has also sought to calm, without entirely succeeding, international concern over proposals by his party for France to abandon the integrated command structure of NATO, the hard core of the Atlantic Alliance.

Another of the RN’s key objectives is the young vote, and Bardella “is there for that,” says the journalist Pierre-Stéphane Fort, author of an exhaustive biography of the “ideal son-in-law” of French politics, Le grand remplaçant (The great replacer, a title that plays with the far right’s theory of the great replacement, which maintains that Muslim and African immigrants are threatening to replace the native European population).

“Marine Le Pen never managed to connect with young people, who did not vote for her, and this is one of the missions she gave to Bardella, that is why she chose him,” Fort tells EL PAÍS. “Today, Bardella is more of a political influencer than a real politician.” The journalist is alluding to one of the secrets of the far-right politician’s success: his presence on social media platforms such as TikTok, where he has more than 1.7 million followers and where, in parallel to his in-person campaigning, he has continued to send campaign messages which, sometimes, reach five million views.

In the European elections that triggered the legislative elections and in which Bardella was also the head of the RN list, his party took 32% of the vote of young people between 18 and 34 years of age. The other usual preserve of the young vote, the radical left of France Insoumise, attracted 20% of these votes.

Not bad for a kid from the banlieue who dropped out of university. Bardella never tires of recalling his childhood in the modest home of his divorced mother, in a troubled neighborhood in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest one in France, and the one with the most immigrants, although when he tells that story he always forgets to explain that his father is a wealthy businessman, Fort recalls.

He essentially received his education during his dizzying climb through the ranks of the RN. At the time that he joined, it still carried the original name of the National Front that Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, gave it when he founded it in 1972 together with veterans of the Algerian war and old Nazi collaborators.

The facelift that his daughter undertook when she took the reins of the party in 2011 involved getting rid of those uncomfortable figures, especially her father, who was expelled in 2015. It continued in 2018 with the name change to Rassemblement National, which eliminated a brand associated with a dark past—pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist—from which she claims to have now disassociated herself. However, its critics assure that it is nothing more than a layer of varnish behind which many of the former FN officials are still present and very active, despite Bardella’s fresh face.

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