At 28, Jordan Bardella shakes up French politics: “Everywhere in France, people have woken up”

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FRANCE — Jordan Bardella is making things happen in French politics. He's young. He is handsome as a male model and since 2022 has been president of the National Rally, the new name of the National Front party founded in 1972 by the controversial far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. The party has moved away from its far-right roots to become more of a populist party under the leadership of Le Pen's daughter Marine.

“Jordan Bardella, a 28-year-old right-wing man without a university degree, could become French Prime Minister in a few weeks,” said Thomas Corbett-Dillon, former advisor to former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and advisor to other countries. European politicians. “This is great news for the French who have suffered relentless attacks on their culture from the left-wing Macron and the millions of migrants he imported.”

Bardella was born into a family of Italian immigrants and excelled in school before attending the country's top university, the Sorbonne. However, he dropped out of school before obtaining a degree to pursue a career in politics. His parents divorced very early and he was raised largely by his mother in a working-class neighborhood in the Paris suburbs.

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Jordan Bardella

Jordan Bardella, national president of the Rally and leader of the electoral list, poses for a selfie with his supporters during an electoral rally for the upcoming European elections in Montbéliard, eastern France, March 22, 2024. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP via Getty Images)

The reason Bardella has a chance of being France's next prime minister is due to the shift of the country's electorate to the populist right in the European elections earlier this month. France led the way with the National Rally with 31.5% of the vote, making it the most popular French political bloc in the election.

This led President Emmanuel Macron to call early legislative elections for the end of the month.

“[Macron] called emergency elections to try to surprise the National Rally party before it was ready,” Corbett-Dillon said. “People all over France have woken up and are fed up with left-wing policies.”

There are, however, other changes that could make Bardella and the National Rally more popular with the French. More precisely, Bardella and Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, have a different way of doing things than that of Marine's father, explains Véronique de Rugy, of French origin, senior researcher at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.

Poster by Jordan Bardella

Women pose in front of a poster of the leader of the far-right National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, during the launch ceremony of the “Young People with Bardella” movement in Paris, January 27, 2024. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

“Jean-Marie’s attitude did not suit the French elite,” says de Rugy. “When I see Marine and Jordan, they fit together very well.”

Furthermore, neither Bardella nor Madame Le Pen pushes anti-Semitic rhetoric as Mr. Le Pen did.

“They are not Jean-Marie,” said de Rugy. She also notes that the usual description of the National Rally by the “extreme right” is not entirely accurate. Yes, the party has an anti-immigration and protectionist stance on imported goods, both of which are far-right, she says. But on domestic issues, the party is quite different.

“These guys are more inclined toward big government programs,” she says. These factors include the high cost of state-funded pensions and other social safety nets.

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Another factor that attracts voters to the National Rally is the high unemployment of young people between 15 and 24 years old. Recent data shows that the youth unemployment rate stands at 17.8%, according to April data. This is up from 16.8% at the start of last year.

This high youth unemployment rate may be due to a lack of education or skills, says Ivo Pezzuto, professor of global economics and competitiveness at the Paris-based ISM Business School.

“There are plenty of jobs, but only for people with the new skills,” Pezzuto says. “The people most likely to get a job would be people with digital know-how.”

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, center, and deputies, including Sébastien Chenu on her left and Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, on her right, take part in a march against anti-Semitism from the Esplanade des Invalides to the Senate on 12 November 2023, in Paris. (Antoine Gyori/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

However, Bardella and the National Rally face enormous challenges. First, achieving a majority in the French Parliament is not the most likely outcome, says Mujtaba Rahman, Eurasia Group's managing director for Europe.. Instead, he says the probability of victory is “non-negligible”, with a 30% chance that the National Rally will win the majority of parliamentary seats.

If Bardella defies all odds and wins a parliamentary majority, it still won't be easy to implement new political programs, Rahman says. Part of this bloc will likely be President Macron, who some say leans a bit to the left. This means that there will likely be a conflict of policy goals between the president and the prime minister.

“We have never had such great ideological differences coexist,” says Rahman.

There is also a risk of problems with government spending. Notably, as a member of the European Union, France is obliged to limit the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP. The problem Rahman sees arising is Macron's attempt to limit Bardella's spending.

“It's not clear [Macron would] “I think there would be a period of experimentation and uncertainty that would result in the constitution being tested.”

The result could put France's finances center stage, and it could already be starting.

Jordan Bardella in campaign

Jordan Bardella, main candidate of the National Rally, delivers a speech at party headquarters during election night on June 9, 2024, in Paris. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

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Investors have expressed their concerns in recent days since Macron called for early voting. The Paris CAC index (roughly the French equivalent of the Dow Jones index) then lost 4% last week. And his finances are under strain. The country had a debt of 111% of its GDP at the end of last year.

And the same year, its deficit amounted to 5.5% of GDP. The EU requires member states to run deficits of no more than 3%.

“The new government will face serious budgetary constraints,” says Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at currency specialist Bannockburn Global Forex. In other words, whoever gets a majority in the French Parliament won't have much room to maneuver.

Chandler also sees an increased risk of France leaving the EU.

“This is an extreme risk, but this one has gotten a little bigger,” he said.

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