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Who is Jordan Bardella, the young face of the French far right?

Europe Letter: Charismatic frontman of National Rally is old wine in new bottle when it comes to immigration

The French far-right National Rally (NR) party has been running a novel recruitment drive for new members over the last few weeks: sign up and you’ll be sent a signed photograph of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella.

Outside of France Le Pen is well known, having been the leader of the anti-immigration party for more than a decade. Bardella, the 28-year-old who succeeded her as NR president a year and a half ago, probably less so.

Although Le Pen is still seen as calling the shots behind the scenes, Bardella has emerged as a popular fresh face on the political scene. His social media output is full of videos of the politician taking smiling selfies among crowds of supporters.

From a family of Italian descent, he grew up in a rough northern suburb of Paris, joining the far-right party as a teenager. Bardella rose through the ranks and became head of its youth wing, during a period when Le Pen was seeking to detoxify the movement’s image. He was elected to the European Parliament five years ago aged 23, then in late 2022 took over as president of the party.


Le Pen is still expected to be the party’s candidate for the French presidency in 2027, in what would be her fourth bid for the Élysée Palace. Given that Emmanuel Macron cannot stand for a third consecutive term, and without his centrist coalition having settled on an obvious successor yet, the far right see the vote in less than three years’ time as their moment.

Bardella has been front and centre of the party’s European election campaign, leading its list in a race where polls give NR a clear lead over Macron’s political group. NR’s strategy has been to capitalise on a sense of dissatisfaction with Macron among the French public. Election leaflets being handed out by party canvassers last week showed a smiling Bardella and Le Pen standing together with a simple message: “Against Macron’s Europe”.

On Wednesday Bardella unveiled the party’s roster of other election candidates during a rally in Perpignan, a southern French city near the Mediterranean coast, a traditional stronghold for NR. Recent controversies over alleged Russian and Chinese influence that have damaged their ideological fellow travellers on the far right, Alternative for Germany (AfD), seem unlikely to dent the French party’s campaign.

However, closer to home one of the NR candidates, Fabrice Leggeri, the former director of the EU’s border agency Frontex, has been caught up in controversy. A legal case has accused Leggeri of facilitating the pushback of migrant boats in his previous role, claims he has strongly rejected. The party has rowed in behind Leggeri, describing him as a “great servant” of the state who has been targeted by “immigrationist NGOs”.

When it comes to policy and the party’s stance on immigration, Bardella is old wine in a new bottle. Campaign emails sent out to supporters speak of “uncontrolled” migratory chaos “rotting” French daily life. Bardella made the same point during a contribution on the new EU migration pact, the major overhaul of asylum policy that was passed by the parliament last month. During that debate he claimed mass immigration constituted a threat to Europe’s security and identity, calling for the reforms to be opposed as they did not go far enough to the right.

Bruno Cautrès, an academic from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, says Bardella is a big electoral asset for NR as the “young star of French politics”. So far during the campaign the party has promised certain tax exemptions for farmers and lower fuel and energy taxes, as well as strict migration controls. It has described the vote in early June as a fight between “patriot” supporters and “extreme left” opponents.

Bardella has ducked out of a number of early debates and after a press conference last week left without taking questions from journalists. The young politician will try to avoid getting into detailed policy debates, according to Sébastien Maillard of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. He prefers to stick closely to familiar topics such as migration and the high cost of living, and avoids taking political risks, Maillard says. “He’s become popular because he’s a populist . . . In today’s politics it works.”