2019 and beyond: growing threat of the radical right in French politics

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2019 and beyond: growing threat of the radical right in French politics

As discussed previously, this is part of a long-term electoral decline for the centre left across Europe in the refugee crisis period. Furthermore, the centre right (The Republicans, LR) are also still polling low and are struggling to get through to the electorate. Meanwhile, the populist radical right National Rally continues to perform well electorally, particularly in the wake of the 2019 European Parliament elections and domestic level opinion polling. The only significant challenger right now to President Macron’s En Marche Party is Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.

Party rebranding: from the National Front to National Rally

Under Marine Le Pen’s leadership, the former National Front (Front National) has been transformed ideologically. The Party changed its name in 2018 from the Front National to Rassemblement National (National Rally). This name change is part of a longer-term strategy by Marine Le Pen to detoxify and distance the party from its ‘extreme right’ ideological roots, particularly under her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and at the same time make the party more electable amongst French voters. A similar strategy has also been deployed recently by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s niece and prospective future leader, who has dropped the ‘Le Pen’ name and is now referred simply as Marion Maréchal.

Marine Le Pen’s ideological revamping of National Rally has sought to mark a clear departure from the ideology held by her father. She has also sought to tone done the rhetoric on the party’s anti-immigration positions. Immigration is still central to the ideology of the FN Party, however Marine Le Pen has strategically sought to link the issue with a populist discourse that has resonated with the French electorate in recent years, particularly amongst the disaffected working classes.

Le Pen has linked immigration to the undermining of both the French nation-state and sovereignty. In recent years, she also sought to link the discourse of immigration to the Eurozone crisis and the failure of the EU project to achieve reform. The continued salience of the immigration issue amidst the refugee crisis in Europe has created further electoral opportunities for National Rally.

National Rally: the future of French politics?

The future of French politics looks increasingly bleak for mainstream centre-left (PS) and centre-right parties (LR) alike. Political momentum for President Macron’s political party En Marche has also stalled, with the ‘gilet jaunes’ (yellow vests) protests demonstrating an appetite for welfare reform in France and widespread volatility amongst French citizens on both left and right alike. Political trust for President Macron has evaporated and there is a growing divide between political elites and French voters.

A resurgent National Rally Party led by Marine Le Pen is making increasing ground in the polls, benefiting from anti-political establishment politics and continued dissatisfaction with the European Union. Based on current polling projections (both vote and seat shares) the transformed National Rally Party is virtually neck and neck with Macron’s En Marche Party in the 2019 European Parliament polls.

There is now a very real possibility that political momentum for National Rally will increase. Whilst the 2022 French Presidential and Legislative elections appear on a distant horizon, political momentum for now at least seems very much on Marine Le Pen’s side, with President Macron’s En Marche struggling. As I wrote previously for CARR back in November 2018, “we may only be at the beginning of the populist radical right surge in European politics.”

Visit the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (#CARR)


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2019 and beyond: growing threat of the radical right in French politics

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