Marine Le Pen, head of the French extreme right, gave two pieces of advice to the 88 deputies of her party, the National Rally (RN), who, along with her, were elected to the National Assembly in the June 19 legislative elections. The first, as reported Le Monde: “Be nice. Be good comrades. Don’t let it go to your head.”. The second was for men only: “Wear a tie.”
And so, with the lesson learned, the 88 deputies plus Marine Le Pen landed on Wednesday in the National Assembly. It seemed like the first day of school. Nerves and excitement. The usual ones were there: few. The rookies: many. And the timid ones who, for the first time, set foot in the august halls and corridors of the Bourbon Palace. They all smiled. All of them – the men – wore a tie. A way to show that they were formal people and that they did not go to the hemicycle to give the note.
“We have been waiting for this victory for 30 years,” said one of the RN’s rising stars, Laure Lavallette, a 46-year-old deputy for the Var department on the Côte d’Azur. “It honors us and obliges us.”
The extreme right of the Le Pen had never had so many deputies in France. In the previous legislature there were eight. It was not even enough to form a parliamentary group. The maximum presence was between 1986 and 1988, with 35. Now, with 89 out of 577, they claim the rank of the first opposition group against the centrist president Emmanuel Macron. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist alliance has many more, but it is a coalition of parties. Separately, none adds more deputies than the RN.
The result of the RN exceeds expectations. It represents an economic benefit: it will bring him about 10 million euros a year in public subsidies, which should allow him to repay the debt he has been carrying for almost a decade with a Russian bank.
The Lepenista tide brings to the National Assembly a generation of unknown parliamentarians with no legislative experience. And it places the RN – heir to the National Front, founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie – at the center of institutional politics, and at a time when it will be able to influence: the center of gravity of power moves to the palace of Bourbon, after Macron lost the absolute majority.
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After interviewing new RN deputies this week in Paris, a common trait appears: identification with Marine, as everyone calls the leader. By ignoring her surname, they differentiate her from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, associated with racism and anti-Semitism.
“I don’t know Jean-Marie Le Pen. I saw it once, but from far away”, says the new deputy Edwige Diaz. “I am Marine”.
Diaz is one of the faces of this marine generation. She is 34 years old. Her paternal grandparents were of Spanish origin and pied noirs, Europeans from Algeria who settled in France after independence in 1962. Their maternal grandparents were communists. She has a master’s degree in Spanish language and has worked in private business. She entered the National Front in 2012, when Marine Le Pen had already taken command. She will represent a constituency in the Gironde department, near Bordeaux: a territory that was never a fiefdom of the extreme right, unlike the industrial north or the Mediterranean basin.
Grégoire de Fournas, a 37-year-old viticulturist, is another of the deputies of the marine generation in the Gironde. He entered the party seven years ago. When at the end of April, after Macron’s victory in the presidential elections, EL PAÍS interviewed him in the Médoc vineyards, he was about to declare himself a candidate for the legislative elections and he was not at all sure that he was going to win.
“Something happened,” says Fournas two months later. “The result of Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections created a favorable dynamic for us in the legislative elections.”
Le Pen, in her third attempt to gain access to the Elysee Palace, fell 17 points behind Macron. But more than 13 million French people voted for her: the best result in history for the extreme right. In the legislative elections he lowered his ambitions and campaigned modestly. Macronistas and Mélenchonistas did not call to activate the cordon sanitaire against the extreme right and to vote explicitly against Le Pen. The rival, in these elections, was no longer Le Pen: it was Macron in the case of Mélenchon, and vice versa. This paved the way for the success of the far right.
Fournas explains it, who in the second round faced a Mélenchon candidate: “There was no Republican barrier against me. Macron’s candidate said she would vote blank. We showed that we were not at the extremes, that we were in the Republican camp, and that helped us.”
Le Pen, when he relieved his father in the National Front a decade ago, embarked on a process of demonization of the party: it was about getting it out of the corner of the plagued. He qualified for the first time for the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. He lost with 33.9% of the vote. Five years later he reached 41.5%. The second stage of the process culminated: normalization. Now comes the third: institutionalization. But everything is fragile and can fall apart at the first outburst of a wayward deputy or at the moment the leader radicalizes her language.
“Marine le Pen has given precise instructions so that her deputies work and commit themselves to giving a credible image of the party”, explains the political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, author of The extreme right in Europe (Intellectual Key publisher). Camus distinguishes between two groups of deputies: veteran militants and novices. “The challenge is to show that they are capable of making properly drafted bills, which should not be taken for granted in the RN,” he says. “And another drawback: they lack allies.”
Jean-Philippe Tanguy, another new deputy from the RN, declares: “We will make proposals. Marine has said it. We will never obstruct, nor happenings to talk about us”. Tanguy – 37 years old and a former General Electric manager in France – points out with these words that his party rules out an opposition based on noise and provocation.
The forms may change, but not the ideological background: the heavy hand with immigration and the “national preference” of the native French. There are new priorities: purchasing power, Le Pen’s flag in the presidential and legislative elections. And also, as another rookie, Pierrick Berteloot, explains, consensus issues such as the fight against bullying, a favorite topic for this 23-year-old deputy, the youngest in the RN, until now employed on the ferries that cross the English Channel . In the Bourbon palace, he confesses: “I feel emotion and joy and pride.” Both he and Tanguy represent northern districts.
To homologate as an institutional party and not a protest party, the slogan is not to miss the rival: the trump moment I pass. And, of course, nothing to go without a tie, like some mélenchonistas. Le Pen, who once again dreams of running for the 2027 presidential elections, has made it clear, this week, to his deputies: “We do not come here with flip flops and flower shirts.”