from the FN to the RN, story of the rise of the extreme right in France

from the FN to the RN, story of the rise of the extreme right in France

In March 2023, Marine Le Pen is chatting with journalists in a restaurant, when a customer approaches their table. “Well done, don’t give up! » he says to the former presidential candidate. Shortly after, another comes forward, then another again, and so on throughout the meal… This parade did not take place in Hénin-Beaumont, his stronghold in Pas-de-Calais, but at the brasserie Le Bourbon, where all-Paris politicians meet between two sessions at the National Assembly. Times have changed: a few years ago, when she chaired the National Front, these meetings were held in discreet places, and few people dared to greet her in public.

Ideological renunciations

Fifty-two years after its founding by a handful of neofascists and former collaborators around Jean-Marie Le Pen, the small far-right group has succeeded in the challenge, unimaginable at the time, of becoming a mass party and ” catch-all” capable of attracting all segments of society: craftsmen, traders, workers and the least qualified employees, but also the middle classes of urban peripheries, farmers and, since the Europeans of June 9, retirees and even executives.

“A significant part of the population perceives a form of downgrading,” explains political scientist Luc Rouban*. It is an electorate which feels mistreated, feels a form of injustice in its social life and suffers the abandonment of public services. There is still the idea that public action is no longer effective. » The novelty comes from executives – 20% of them voted RN on June 9 – who see the gap with their ruling elites growing, both in terms of recognition of their merit and in terms of remuneration. The renunciation of numerous ideological markers, such as leaving the euro or retirement at 60, has finally reassured the hesitant.

If Jean-Marie Le Pen established the National Front (FN) over the long term, will Marine Le Pen succeed in bringing him to power? It has long been said that the former Poujadist did not want it – his anti-Semitic excesses were anything but uncontrolled. This is not the case for his daughter. “We will come to power in the next ten years,” she prophesied before her first presidential campaign, twelve years ago.

To do this, Marine Le Pen worked, as soon as she took the reins of the FN in 2011, to send messages to the Jewish community, declaring that “what happened in the camps” was the “peak of barbarism” and by dismissing the activists best known for their ambiguity on the subject. To correct the idea of ​​a racist party, she straddles the theme of the secularism of the State against Islamism.

And in 2022, it is “to the cause of women” that she says she is sensitive, slipping in passing that France is “ready” to elect one of them, “to the highest functions of the State” when talking about himself. Disappointed and tired after her new failure, she was tempted to abandon everything on the evening of the second round… “It was the election of 89 deputies that reinvigorated her,” reveals a close friend.

The RN focuses on seriousness and notability

This strong return to the Palais Bourbon – after a first push in the legislative elections of 1986, where 35 deputies had already been elected under the banner of a “national gathering” – changed everything. Because he broke down another barrier: that of seriousness and notability. Despite its electoral successes, the FN had always lacked the skills to show that it was fit to govern. The 89 outgoing deputies gave an unprecedented strike force to the National Rally (RN), especially as they took care to appear tied and studious, far from the noise and fury of La France insoumise. The fire started in 2022 by the racist outburst of Grégoire de Fournas – “Let them go back to Africa”, the Marinist deputy had launched into the Assembly regarding migrants on a humanitarian ship – was very quickly put down.

In her quest for credibility, Marine Le Pen understood, from 2022, the full political interest of chairing the parliamentary group, leaving the management of the party to Jordan Bardella. A clever distribution of roles: while it consolidates the traditional electorate of the FN, the president of the RN, whose careful image erases the radical discourse, appeals to young people and Republican voters. For two years, the man who has only met Jean-Marie twice in his life has continued to reassure economic circles, praising his “pragmatism” in the event of accession to power. In form, Bardella is accomplishing the third phase of the RN project: the standardization of ideas. Before Matignon?

* Author of The real victory of the RN (Ed. Presses de Sciences Po).

Also read, by the author of this article: The hidden face of Marine Le Pen (Ed. Flammarion).

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