France’s far right is getting more and more popular and is now in parliament.
The National Rally, which is led by Marine Le Pen, now has a place of power in the political system and a chance to prove itself to voters.
In parliamentary elections in 2017, Marine Le Pen and her allies won only a few seats. She blamed France’s two-round voting system for keeping her party out of Parliament, even though over a million votes were cast in favor of her party.
“We won eight seats in the National Assembly,” she said bitterly, referring to the lower and more powerful house of Parliament. “We are worth 80, in my opinion.”
Fast forward to the parliamentary elections that took place last week. The way people vote hasn’t changed, but Ms. Le Pen is now beaming because 89 new lawmakers were elected, which is a record for her party, which is now called the National Rally.
On Wednesday, she hugged and kissed all of her new colleagues before leading them into the National Assembly and taking a picture of the whole group.
Ms. Le Pen told a crowd of TV cameras and microphones, “You’ll see that we’ll get a lot of work done with great skill and seriousness.” “That’s not what you usually say about us,” she told the reporters who had gathered.
For decades, the French far right couldn’t get very far in local or national elections because of its bad reputation and people’s doubts about its ability to run the country well. However, it was able to capture the anger of France’s disillusioned and unhappy people. In April, President Emmanuel Macron beat Ms. Le Pen in the election for president.
But the National Rally did very well in the parliamentary election last weekend. This was the end of Ms. Le Pen’s years-long quest for respectability as she tries to clean up the image of her party, give it an air of competence, and put a softer face on her platform of being strongly nationalist and against immigrants.
Even the National Rally’s own members were surprised by the results, which were made possible by the collapse of the “republican front” that mainstream parties and voters usually put up against the far right. This “front” was made up of people who didn’t like Mr. Macron and who voted for them.
Philippe Olivier, Ms. Le Pen’s brother-in-law and special adviser, called the party’s 89 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly “a tidal wave” and said he would be lying if he said he wasn’t surprised.
The National Rally is now the second largest party in Parliament, behind Mr. Macron’s party. Mr. Macron lost his absolute majority and is now struggling to find enough lawmakers to pass his bills, which could force him to work with a resurgent opposition.
In an interview with the news agency Agence France-Presse on Saturday, Mr. Macron said he had asked Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to talk with parliamentary groups about forming “a new government of action” that will be named early next month.
He also said that the new government could have people from all sides of politics, except for the hard-left France Unbowed party and Ms. Le Pen’s party, which he said were not “parties of government.”
The National Rally doesn’t have enough lawmakers to get its own bills through Parliament, and it will be hard for them to find allies there. But because of its election results, the party will get more money from the government. This is good news for the party’s finances.
Importantly, it has enough seats to form a parliamentary group for the first time since the 1980s. This is the only way to get power 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 stop the legislative process.
“There was a two-day debate on immigration during the last term,” Mr. Olivier said. “We each had five minutes to talk!”
Ms. Le Pen has said that her party will ask for positions that are usually given to opposition groups. These include the vice presidency of the National Assembly and the head of the powerful finance committee, which is in charge of the state budget.
Analysts say that the far right’s established presence in Parliament could make them even stronger in France’s political scene and give them a great place to start for future elections.
Jean-Yves Camus, co-director of the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a center for progressive research, said, “I think Marine Le Pen knows that this is really the last test.”
Mr. Camus said that many voters, even those who might agree with her ideas, still have doubts about her party’s ability. Now, he said, she will try to show that, like other far-right populist parties in Europe, her party can use institutional machinery from the inside instead of railing against it from the outside.
Mr. Olivier said that his party would try to get laws passed on its favorite topics, such as lowering value-added taxes on energy and essential goods, cutting immigration by a lot, and giving police more power. But he said that his party would not be a “troublemaker” and would instead be “a constructive opposition.”
He said, “If Macron comes up with a bill about nuclear power, we will vote for it.” “We will look at a bill if it moves in the right direction.”
Ms. Le Pen has been working on a long-term plan to make her party less scary and get more people to vote for it. Since she lost to Mr. Macron in 2017, she has been trying to improve her reputation and change the way people think about her party, which used to be known for being extremist.
Many of the new far-right lawmakers got their start in politics during this time of change. They learned the ropes as city councilors or parliamentary assistants, where they tried to appear serious and break with the party’s longtime leaders, who were often linked to anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
“A little bit of new blood and some new faces won’t hurt,” Bryan Masson, who won a seat in the southern French region of Alpes-Maritimes, told BFM TV last Monday. After a decade of working for the National Rally, first as the leader of its local youth branch and then as a regional councilor, he became one of Parliament’s youngest members at age 25.
Ms. Le Pen has also given up ideas that turned off most voters, like a plan to leave the eurozone. This helped her get 41.5 percent of the vote in April’s presidential election, an increase of eight points from 2017.
That wasn’t enough to beat Macron, who called for a “republican front.” This is a long-standing strategy in which voters from the middle of the political spectrum put aside their differences to vote for anyone but the far right in runoff elections.
In the past few years, however, this front has been getting weaker, and last week it seemed to fall apart. This is because French politics are becoming more divided into three strongly opposed groups: Mr. Macron’s broad, pro-globalization center, the far right, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, France Unbowed, which is on the far left.
Last weekend, the National Rally won half of its runoff matches against candidates from a coalition of parties that support Mr. Macron. In the last legislative elections, less than one in ten of these matches were won by the National Rally.
Many in Mr. Macron’s party put the far right and Mr. Mélenchon’s leftist coalition on almost the same level, saying that they were both extreme. This is why, according to a recent poll, half of the president’s supporters didn’t vote in runoffs between the National Rally and the left.
In the same way, the left-wing alliance said that “not a single vote” should go to the far right, but it did not encourage voters to support Mr. Macron’s alliance, so many of its supporters stayed home.
Gilles Ivaldi, who works at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po in Paris, said that the far right had ridden the wave of anger against Mr. Macron’s pro-business policies and what was seen as his arrogance, since most voters wanted to punish the president.
“These legislative elections looked a lot like midterms,” he said, even though they were held less than two months after Macron was re-elected.
Analysts say that the National Rally’s new seat in Parliament is a double-edged sword.
Mr. Camus said that Ms. Le Pen has to find a way to “be almost completely normalized while still being transgressive.” This is because her party is now fully part of a political system that it had long criticized as inefficient and corrupt.
“The fact that they were against the establishment is what brought people to the National Rally,” he said.
Now, they are at the center of the business.