Posted on June 30, 2022

France’s Far Right Surges Into Parliament, and Further Into the Mainstream

Aurelien Breeden and Constant Méheut, New York Times, June 26, 2022

In 2017, after the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her allies won only a handful of seats in parliamentary elections, she blamed France’s two-round voting system for shutting her party out of Parliament despite getting over one million ballots cast in its favor.

“We are eight,” she said bitterly, referring to the seats won by her party in the National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of Parliament. “In my opinion we are worth 80.”

Fast-forward to last week’s parliamentary elections. The voting system hasn’t changed, but with 89 newly elected lawmakers — an all-time record for her party, currently known as the National Rally — Ms. Le Pen is now beaming.

On Wednesday, she hugged her new colleagues, kissing cheeks left and right, before leading them into the National Assembly and posing for a group picture.

“You’ll see that we are going to get a lot of work done, with great competence, with seriousness,” Ms. Le Pen told a scrum of television cameras and microphones. In contrast with “what you usually say about us,” she pointedly told the gathered reporters.

For decades, dogged by its unsavory past and doubts over its ability to effectively govern, the French far right failed to make much headway in local and national elections even as it captured the anger of France’s disillusioned and dissatisfied. Most recently, President Emmanuel Macron defeated Ms. Le Pen in April’s presidential race.

But the National Rally surged spectacularly in the parliamentary election last weekend, capping Ms. Le Pen’s yearslong quest for respectability as she tries to sanitize her party’s image, project an air of competence and put a softer face on her resolutely nationalist and anti-immigrant platform.

Fueled by anger against Mr. Macron and enabled by the collapse of the “republican front” that mainstream parties and voters traditionally erected against the far right, the results came as a shock even within the National Rally’s own ranks.


The National Rally is now the second largest party in Parliament behind that of Mr. Macron, who lost his absolute majority and is now struggling to cobble together enough lawmakers to pass his bills {snip}

In an interview with the news agency Agence France-Presse on Saturday, Mr. Macron said he had asked Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to consult with parliamentary groups to form “a new government of action” that will be named early next month.

He added that the new government could include representatives from across the political landscape, with the exception of the hard-left party France Unbowed and Ms. Le Pen’s party, which he said he did not consider to be “parties of government.”

The National Rally does not have enough lawmakers to push through its own bills and will struggle to find allies in Parliament. But thanks to increased public funding based on its election results, the haul of seats is a financial boon for the heavily indebted party.

Crucially, for the first time since the 1980s, it has enough seats to form a parliamentary group — the only way to get leverage in the lower house.

National Rally lawmakers can now bring a no-confidence vote, ask for a law to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, create special investigative committees, fill top parliamentary jobs and use a new wealth of speaking time and amending power to push and prod the government and slow or block the legislative process.


“I think Marine Le Pen understands that this is really the final test,” said Jean-Yves Camus, co-director of the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a progressive research institute.

But the National Rally’s new presence in Parliament is a double-edged sword, analysts say.

Ms. Le Pen has to manage a delicate balancing act that entails “being almost completely normalized while remaining transgressive,” Mr. Camus said, as the party fully joins a political system it had long castigated as inefficient and corrupt.

“What brought voters to the National Rally was that they were an anti-establishment party,” he added.

Now, they are at the establishment’s heart.