Meet Jordan Bardella, the man who could be France's next Prime Minister

French far-right party chairman and leading MEP Rassemblement National (RN) Jordan Bardella (C) attends a visit to the Eurosatory trade fair for land and air defense and security, at the Paris-Nord Villepinte exhibition center in Villepinte, north of Paris , on June 19, 2024.

Julien De Rosa | Episode | Getty Images

Marine Le Pen is the name that comes to mind at any mention of France's far-right National Rally party, but it is her protege Jordan Bardella who could be thrust into one of the most powerful roles in France after a snap election.

Bardella has risen through the ranks of the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration National Rally (Rassemblement National, or RN) to become president in 2022, with his youth, appearance and social media savvy helping to attract younger voters.

He could soon become Prime Minister if RN wins an absolute majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections – and he is only 28.

Bardella's rise from party spokesperson in 2017 to party chairman over the course of five years is somewhat remarkable for a man who is only 28. CNBC has the details on Bardella and his meteoric rise to fame.

Rise in the ranks of the party

Born in 1995 in Drancy, in the northern Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denisan area that has become synonymous with poverty, high crime rates and inadequate social housing, Bardella was the only child of parents of Italian descent, although his father's grandfather was Algerian.

Bardella excelled in economics and social sciences at a private university and joined National Rally – then known as the National Front – at the age of 16. He then went on to study at Paris' Sorbonne University, before dropping out to concentrate on politics.

Bardella has often touted his average background to appeal to voters, experts say. The party has used it as a way to appeal to French citizens, especially those who may have participated in populist, anti-government Yellow Vest protests in recent years against the rising cost of living and economic inequality.

Political commentators point out that Bardella's father was in fact a successful businessman who lived in the affluent suburb of Montmorency, where Bardella spent much of his childhood after his parents divorced. However, Bardella and the RN made the most of his “humble origins.”

'While many among the French political establishment studied politics, Bardella studied geography before quitting to concentrate on his political career. He is not shy about talking about his humble origins and is one of the few high-profile politicians who can draw on the first experience of disadvantage and geographical marginalization,” wrote Joseph Downing, visiting scholar at the European Institute of the London School of Economics in recent analysis.

Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally group in the National Assembly, joins Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally (Rassemblement National), at the last meeting before the upcoming European Parliament elections on June 9, held at Le Dôme de Paris – Palais des Sports, on June 2, 2024.

Nurfoto | Nurfoto | Getty Images

“Even the leader of the far left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, although born to parents of European settlers in Morocco, lacks some of Bardella's credentials,” he added.

Bardella's rise to prominence has occurred under the auspices of the party's figurehead, Marine Le Pen, and reports suggest he came to her attention after dating the daughter of her close friend and confidante, Frederic Chatillon. He was reportedly appointed party spokesman within weeks of meeting Le Pen in 2017. Two years later, he became a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) before becoming party chairman in 2022.

Bardella's meteoric rise in the party has earned him the nickname “Lion Cub” from Le Pen, but it was likely a more strategic move by the veteran politician as she sought to modernize the party and attract new voters.

Having a young and (some say) handsome political figurehead who is popular on social media – Bardella has 1.6 million TikTok followers – has softened the party's far-right image and reputation and boosted its profile and appeal among young people and female voters. The phenomenon is even called 'Bardella mania'. as hundreds of young women attend campaign events to catch a glimpse of the young politician on stage.

Bardella's popular appeal has also fueled criticism of the far right's 'poster boy'. Critics say his media savvy and rhetoric on tackling immigration and crime may appeal to the electorate as a 'cri de coeur', but he lacks substance and detail, and the policy takes a back seat to the publicity.

His voting record as a member of the European Parliament has also come under scrutiny, with accusations that he has supported certain issues in public debate, such as women's rights regarding access to abortion and equal pay and immigration control measures. but was absent from the votes on such issues in the European Parliament. Bardella has denied allegations of negligence.

Supporters wave the national flag of France during a campaign rally of Jordan Bardella, the president of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party, and chairman of the French far-right parliamentary group Rassemblement National (RN), Marine Le Pen. ahead of the upcoming European Union (EU) parliamentary elections in Henin-Beaumont, Northern France, on May 24, 2024.

François Lo Presti | Afp | Getty Images

Bardella has told voters he will “restore order,” curb immigration and tackle delinquency but he and Le Pen have backtracked on some of their sharper promises and rhetoric, for example backing away from France's withdrawal from NATO and moderating the party's traditionally pro-Russian stance. He said he would still support sending weapons to Ukraine, but not the deployment of ground troops, as Macron suggested was a possibility.

“First, Le Pen and Bardella are trying to reassure voters and markets that they will not rock the boat,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, said in a note last week.

“They emphasize Le Pen's previous budget demands (rollback of pension reforms, large tax cuts for young and/or low-income citizens). Instead, Le Pen promises that an RN-led government would work with President Macron. As the political center, the RN seems to have quietly left behind the pro-Putin parts of its previous manifesto,” he noted.

Bardella's chance

Bardella's shot at power comes courtesy of French President Emmanuel Macron's shock decision to call early elections after RN edged ahead of his Renaissance Party in the European Parliament elections earlier in June.

The move is seen as a risky bet for Macron, as it could greatly strengthen his political rivals on the far right in the run-up to the 2027 presidential elections. Analysts say Macron may be betting on RN taking a more prominent role in French politics but failing to make an impact when it has more power, leaving it deflated before the 2027 elections.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally (RN), a French nationalist and right-wing populist party, arrives at his final meeting ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections.

Nurfoto | Nurfoto | Getty Images

A handful of opinion polls conducted in June show the populist-nationalist RN leading the polls with up to 35% of the vote, ahead of the left-wing New Popular Front bloc with 25-26% and Macron's centrist Samen alliance in third place with about 19% of the votes.

Even if a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the vote, analysts say a strong turnout for the National Rally will put pressure on Macron to appoint a prime minister from the party.

The prime minister would then have significant say over France's domestic and economic policies, while Macron would remain responsible for foreign policy and defense as president.

National Rally Chairman Jordan Bardella speaks to members of the media as he arrives at Medef in Paris, France, on Thursday, June 20, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

National Rally has already said that Bardella will be put forward as its choice for prime minister if the party performs well, while Marine Le Pen, the party's figurehead, would be its candidate for the 2027 presidential election.

Bardella said last week that he would only accept the premiership if RN won an absolute majority in the vote, with RN likely facing the prospect of leading a fragile and divided minority government.

For his part, Bardella recently emphasized that he “needs an absolute majority to govern,” laying down the gauntlet for his supporters to get out and vote.

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