Jordan Bardella, 28, Emerges as Leading Figure in French Politics: ‘People Across France Have Awakened’

FRANCE — Jordan Bardella is making waves in French politics. At 28, he is the president of the National Rally, the rebranded version of the National Front party founded in 1972 by controversial far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. The party has moved away from its far-right roots, becoming more populist under Le Pen’s daughter, Marine.

“Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old right-wing politician without a college degree, could become the French prime minister in a few weeks,” says Thomas Corbett-Dillon, a former advisor to former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other European politicians. “This is excellent news for the French people who have endured relentless attacks on their culture by left-wing Macron and the millions of migrants he has brought in.”

Bardella hails from a family of Italian immigrants and excelled in school before attending the Sorbonne, France’s top university. However, he left before earning a degree to pursue a career in politics. His parents divorced when he was young, and he was primarily raised by his mother in a working-class neighborhood in the Paris suburbs.

Bardella’s potential rise to the position of French prime minister is due to the shift in France’s electorate towards the populist right in the recent European Union elections. The National Rally secured 31.5% of the vote in France, making it the most popular French political bloc in the election.

This result prompted Macron to call a snap parliamentary election for the end of the month.

“[Macron] called an urgent election to try and catch the National Rally party off guard before they were ready,” says Corbett-Dillon. “People across France have had enough and are fed up with left-wing policies.”

Bardella and Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, have adopted a different approach compared to their father, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia, who was born in France.

“Jean-Marie’s demeanor didn’t resonate with the French elite,” de Rugy says. “When I see Marine and Jordan, they fit in perfectly.”

Furthermore, neither Bardella nor Madame Le Pen advocate for extreme views as Mr. Le Pen did.

“They are not Jean-Marie,” de Rugy says. She also points out that the typical “far-right” label assigned to the National Rally is not entirely accurate. While the party does have an anti-immigrant and protectionist stance on imported goods, both considered far-right positions, she says, its domestic policies are quite different.

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

Another factor driving voters towards the National Rally is the high unemployment rate among young people between 15 and 24. Recent data shows that the youth unemployment rate was 17.8% in April, up from 16.8% at the beginning of last year.

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

“There are a lot of jobs, but only for those with the right skills,” Pezzuto says. “Those most likely to find employment are people with digital skills.”

However, Bardella and the National Rally face significant challenges. Firstly, winning a majority in the French parliament is not the most probable outcome, says Mujtaba Rahman, Eurasia Group’s managing director for Europe. Instead, he says the possibility of a victory is “non-negligible” with a 30% chance of the National Rally securing a majority of parliamentary seats.

Even if Bardella defies the odds and achieves a parliamentary majority, implementing new policy programs will not be easy, Rahman says. President Macron, who some consider slightly left-leaning, will likely pose a hurdle. This suggests potential clashes between the president and the prime minister over policy objectives.

“Never before have we seen a cohabitation with such stark ideological differences,” Rahman says.

There is also the potential for issues with government spending. As a member of the EU, France is obligated to adhere to limits on its fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP. Rahman anticipates Macron attempting to restrict Bardella’s spending.

“It’s not clear [Macron would] be able to do that,” Rahman says. “I think there would be a period of experimentation and uncertainty, leading to the constitution being put to the test.”

This could place France’s finances in the spotlight, a possibility that may already be unfolding.

Investors have expressed concerns in recent days since Macron announced the snap vote. The Paris CAC index (roughly the French equivalent of the Dow Jones index) dropped 4% last week. France’s finances are stretched. The country’s debt reached 111% of its GDP at the end of last year.

In the same year, the country’s deficit climbed to 5.5% of GDP. The EU requires member states to maintain deficits no higher than 3%.

“The new government will face severe fiscal constraints,” says Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at currency specialist Bannockburn Global Forex. In other words, regardless of who secures a majority in the French parliament, there will be limited room for maneuver.

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

“It’s a tail risk, but the tail has gotten a bit bigger,” he said.