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He’s only 28 but has revitalized France’s far right: Meet the man who could be the country’s next prime minister

French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party President and lead MEP Jordan Bardella (C) attends a visit to the Eurosatory land and airland defence and security trade fair, at the Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre in Villepinte, north of Paris, on June 19, 2024.

Julien De Rosa | Afp | Getty Images

Marine Le Pen is the name that springs to mind at any mention of France’s hard-right National Rally party, but it’s her protégé Jordan Bardella who could be thrust into one of the most powerful roles in France after a snap election.

Bardella has risen up the ranks of the euroskeptic and anti-immigration National Rally (Rassemblement National, or RN) to become its president in 2022, with his youth, looks and social-media savviness helping to attract younger voters.

Soon, he could well become prime minister if RN wins an absolute majority in the forthcoming parliamentary elections — and he’s only 28.

Bardella’s rise from party spokesman in 2017 to party president over the course of five years is somewhat remarkable for a man who is only 28. CNBC has the lowdown on Bardella and his meteoric rise to prominence.

Rising up the party ranks

Born in 1995 in Drancy in the north Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, an area that has become synonymous with deprivation, high crime rates and inadequate public housing, Bardella was the only child of parents of Italian origin, although his father’s grandfather was Algerian.

Bardella excelled in economics and social sciences at a private college and joined National Rally — then known as the National Front — at the age of 16. He then went on to study at the Paris Sorbonne University, before dropping out to focus on politics.

Bardella has often extolled his average background to appeal to voters, experts say. The party has used it as a way to appeal to French citizens, particularly those that may have participated in populist, anti-government Yellow Vest protests in recent years against the rising cost of living and economic inequality.

Political commentators point out that Bardella’s father was in fact a successful businessman who lived in the affluent suburb of Montmorency, where Bardella spent much of his childhood after his parents divorced. Bardella and the RN, however, have made the most of his “modest origins.”

“While many among the French political establishment studied politics, Bardella studied geography before dropping out to concentrate on his political career. He is not shy of talking about his humble origins and is one of the few high-profile politicians who can draw on first-hand experience of disadvantage and geographical marginalisation,” Joseph Downing, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute, wrote in recent analysis.

Marine Le Pen, President of the National Rally group in the National Assembly, joins Jordan Bardella, President of the National Rally (Rassemblement National), at the final rally before the upcoming European Parliament election on June 9th, held at Le Dôme de Paris – Palais des Sports, on June 2, 2024.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

“Even the leader of the far left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, though born to European settler parents in Morocco, lacks some of the council estate credentials of Bardella,” he added.

Bardella’s rise to prominence has taken place under the aegis of party figurehead, Marine Le Pen, with reports suggesting he came to her attention after he dated the daughter of her close friend and confidant, Frederic Chatillon. Indeed, reportedly within weeks of meeting Le Pen in 2017, he had been made a party spokesperson. Two years later, he became a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) before being made party president in 2022.

Bardella’s rapid ascent in the party has earned him the nickname of being Le Pen’s “lion cub” but it was likely a more strategic move by the veteran politician as she sought to modernize the party and attract new voters.

Having a young and (some say) handsome political figurehead that’s popular on social media — Bardella has 1.6 million TikTok followers — has softened the party’s hard-right image and reputation, and has boosted the party’s profile and appeal among younger people and female voters. The phenomenon has even been termed “Bardella mania” as hundreds of young women attend campaign events to get a glimpse of the young politician on stage.

Bardella’s popular appeal has also fueled criticism of the hard-right’s “poster boy.” Critics say his media savviness and rhetoric on tackling immigration and crime might appeal to the electorate as a ‘cri de coeur’ but he lacks substance and specifics, with policy taking a backseat to publicity.

Hs voting record as the Member of the European Parliament has also come under scrutiny, with accusations that he has supported certain issues, such as women’s rights concerning access to abortion and equal pay and immigration control measures, in public discourse but has been absent from votes on such issues at the European Parliament. Bardella has denied accusations of absenteeism.

Supporters wave the national flag of France during a campaign meeting of France’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party’s President and lead European Parliament election candidate Jordan Bardella and President of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) parliamentary group Marine Le Pen, ahead of the upcoming European Union (EU) parliamentary elections, in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on May 24, 2024. 

Francois Lo Presti | Afp | Getty Images

Bardella has told voters he will “restore order,” curb immigration and tackle delinquency but he and Le Pen have rowed back on some of their more strident promises and rhetoric, backpedalling over taking France out of NATO, for example, and moderating the party’s traditionally pro-Russian stance. He said he would still support the sending of arms to Ukraine but not the deployment of ground troops, as Macron suggested was a possibility.

“First, Le Pen and Bardella are trying to reassure voters and markets that they would not rock the boat,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, said in a note last week.

“They are de-emphasising Le Pen’s previous fiscal demands (pension reform reversal, big tax cuts for young and/or low-income citizens). Instead, Le Pen promises that an RN-led government would work with President Macron. To not repel the political centre, the RN seems to have quietly ditched the pro-Putin parts of its previous manifesto,” he noted.

Bardella’s opportunity

Bardella’s shot at power is thanks to French President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to call a snap election after RN surged ahead of his Renaissance party in the European Parliament elections earlier in June.

The move is seen as a risky gamble for Macron as it could greatly empower his political rivals in the hard-right ahead of the 2027 presidential election. Analysts say Macron might be betting on RN gaining a more prominent role in French politics but failing to impress when it has more power, deflating it before the 2027 vote.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally (RN), a French nationalist and right-wing populist party, arrives at his final rally ahead of the upcoming European Parliament election.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A handful of opinion polls conducted in June show the populist-nationalist RN leading the polls with up to 35% of the vote, ahead of the left-wing New Popular Front bloc with 25-26% and Macron’s centrist Together alliance in third place with around 19% of the vote.

Even if a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the vote, analysts say a strong showing for National Rally will put pressure on Macron to appoint a prime minister from the party.

The PM would then have a significant say over France’s domestic and economic policy while Macron, as president, would remain in charge of foreign policy and defense.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, speaks to members of the media as he arrives at Medef in Paris, France, on Thursday, June 20, 2024. 

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

National Rally has already said Bardella would be put forward as its choice for the premiership if the party performs well, while Marine Le Pen, the party’s figurehead, would be its candidate for the 2027 presidential election.

Bardella said last week that he would only accept the premiership if RN got an absolute majority in the vote, however, with RN likely balking at the prospect of leading a fragile and fractious minority government.

For his part, Bardella has recently stressed that he would “need an absolute majority to govern,” throwing down the gauntlet to his supporters to get out and vote.



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