“Bardella Mania”… The story of the rise of the son of an Italian immigrant to the leadership of the right in France

France’s right-wing National Rally party is making headlines, along with its 28-year-old political leader, Jordan Bardella.

The top spot in the first round of national legislative elections on Sunday has cemented Bardella’s reputation as someone who could reshape French politics, after years of party efforts to do so, this time through a young man who grew up in the poor suburbs of Paris and has managed to attract millions of young people.

Bardella is expected to become prime minister if the party, previously led by the doyen of the far-right nationalist movement, Marine Le Pen, extends its lead in the second round of voting, which would impose what is known as a government of coexistence, with Emmanuel Macron remaining president for the remainder of his term until 2027, and Bardella as prime minister.

The young man had previously received widespread praise for the victory of the National Rally party in the European elections, which won about 31.4 percent of the vote, more than double the share of the vote won by Macron’s coalition.

In the legislative elections held on Sunday, the right, led by Bardella, came in first by a large margin in the results of this round, which means that it is now likely that Bardella’s party and Marine Le Pen will obtain a strong relative majority or even an absolute majority next Sunday.

With between 34.2 and 34.5 percent of the vote, the National Rally and its allies came ahead of the left-wing alliance (National Popular Front), which won between 28.5 and 29.1 percent of the vote, while Macron’s camp came in third (20.5 to 21.5 percent) in this vote that witnessed heavy participation.

The young president of the National Rally said on Sunday evening that the second round of elections, which will be held on July 7, will be “one of the most decisive in the entire history of the Fifth French Republic,” stressing that the French “have issued a final verdict.”

Bardella pledged to be “the head of a government of coexistence, who respects the constitution and the office of the President of the Republic, but does not compromise” on his government project.

“We need an absolute majority,” said Marine Le Pen, who currently heads the National Rally parliamentary group.

Son of Italian immigrants

According to Washington PostBorn in 1995 to a family of Italian descent, Bardella grew up in the poor northern suburbs of Paris.

And it indicates The New York Times He was raised by his mother, an Italian immigrant, who separated from his father when he was one year old and struggled to make ends meet.

The exact nature of Bardella’s upbringing in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb is unclear, and he portrays it as a childhood of extreme hardship in areas plagued by drug dealing and violence.

However, Bardella attended a private school, the Lycée Saint-Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, where his father paid the fees.

“His upbringing was not particularly special,” Yves Camus, an expert on nationalist movements in Europe, told the New York Times.

Despite graduating with honors from high school, Bardella dropped out of college to focus on politics, and proved to have strong political convictions. In 2012, at the age of 16, he joined the National Rally (then known as the National Front) when Marine Le Pen, the doyen of French nationalist politics, was leading the party.

Bardella worked on Marine Le Pen’s 2017 presidential campaign.

Five years later, he was elected the first person to lead the party outside the Le Pen family.

He has built a following among young voters, including 1.7 million followers on TikTok.

Attractive style

With his charming style and appearance, he was quickly seen by Le Pen’s circle as the best representative of the National Rally after the party was accused of anti-Semitism during the era of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, The New York Times says.

Marine Le Pen found marketing value in him.

Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Front in 1972, and Le Pen chose a three-colored flame as its symbol, similar to the Italian neo-fascist party. Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose rhetoric focused on immigration and Jews, was condemned several times for his anti-Semitic comments.

After taking over the party, Marine has tried to distance the party from its anti-Semitic image. In 2015, the party expelled Jean-Marie Le Pen after an interview in which he described Nazi gas chambers as “just a detail of history.”

Marine renamed the National Front the National Rally in 2018. Critics were quick to point out that the name was similar to that of the National Popular Rally, a political group that cooperated with the pro-Nazi French government during World War II.

Under her leadership, the party came close to the presidency when it faced Macron in 2017 and 2022. It lost both times.

Marketing value

Pierre-Stéphane Fort, an investigative journalist and author of a new book about Bardella, told The Washington Post that Le Pen saw the marketing value in Bardella’s origin story and made him a marketable model on social media, a smart alternative who could reach new voters. She once called him “the lion cub,” now she calls him “the lion.”

Bardella considered a smart alternative to Marine Le Pen

“In the past, anyone who disagreed with the National Rally would quickly label Le Pen a racist or a fascist,” a Frenchman named Foy told The New York Times. “But for Bardella, the good thing is that he thinks the same way, but they can’t call him a racist because he’s the child of immigrants with Italian parents.”

The Washington Post says he represents a break from the technocrats who were trained in elite schools and dominated French politics, and has reframed the angry message of the nationalist right so effectively that there is talk of “Bardella mania.”

While some see Bardella as a “puppet” of Le Pen, his admirers point to his rise from the working class to the top of French politics as a matter of inspiration.

France tastes revolutions

The New York Times says that “France, which has a taste for revolution, has found in Bardella a gentlemanly, elegantly dressed rebel who vows to turn the country’s politics upside down in order to save it from ‘disappearance.'”

If Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister, it will be the first time a right-wing government has led France since World War II, and it will give the National Rally more power to push its populist, eurosceptic, anti-immigration ideas into the political mainstream.

A look to the future

In a statement on Sunday, Bardella promised to promote “unity” if he became prime minister, but continued to attack his main rival, the leftist coalition, saying its victory “would lead the country to chaos, rebellion and the destruction of our economy.”

“Our civilization could die because it (the left) will be overwhelmed by immigrants who have irreversibly changed our customs, our culture and our way of life,” Bardella told a crowd of more than 5,000 flag-waving supporters last week.

However, Bardella was keen to stress his intention “not to compromise France’s international commitments” if he were appointed prime minister, noting that Marine Le Pen had called in 2022 to withdraw from NATO’s central command.

Bardella pledged to be “very vigilant” against “Russian attempts to interfere,” setting “red lines” regarding sending soldiers to Ukraine, “long-range missiles or military equipment” that would “directly target Russian cities,” according to Agence France-Presse.

These positions contradict Macron’s statements in support of the use of Western weapons in Ukraine to “disable” Russian military bases.

Both the right and the left-wing coalition have proposed that, if they win the second round of elections, they would abolish the government-approved unemployment insurance, which tightens eligibility requirements and shortens the duration of benefits.

Other controversial reforms include those affecting pensions, which delayed the retirement age by two years to 64, provoking strong popular discontent and division among parliamentarians.

The two opposition blocs want to reverse this decision, with the left proposing to cancel it and seek a “common goal” of retirement at 60.

Bardella made conflicting statements on this issue, confirming his intention to adopt a retirement system at 62 with a “gradual” mechanism for long-term workers that would allow retirement at 60 for those who started working before the age of 20 and paid contributions for 40 years.

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