France’s right-wing national Rassemblement National party is electing a new chairmanship, and for the first time he is not from the Le Pen family. But that could be part of Marine Le Pen’s strategy.
It could be the end of an era – or part of a sophisticated strategy by France’s right-wing superstar Marine Le Pen: For the first time in the 50-year history of the Rassemblement National (formerly: Front National), no member of the Le Pen family is at the helm for a long time right-wing extremist party. Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s offspring and previously acting top man of the RN, took the helm on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Bardella had had a rapid career under Le Pen’s leadership in the party, as a jagged spokesman for the tightly right-wing national issues and Le Pen left the field in everything that brings sympathy points outside of right-wing extremist circles. However, the change in leadership does not mean that Le Pen will step down himself.
Because after an extremely successful election year in which it grew to become the largest opposition party in the National Assembly, the party wants more. It should be about more influence in the regions and about the Élysée Palace – specifically the regional elections in 2026 and the presidential election in 2027.
Who goes in the ring?
Even if the 54-year-old Le Pen achieved record results for her party this year, it is not yet certain whether the trained lawyer will make her fourth attempt at the highest state office in 2027. Following this year’s elections, instead of returning to the party leadership, she decided to chair the parliamentary group in the House of Commons, which had grown enormously. “She thinks she will be most useful for 2027 in the National Assembly because the RN’s lack of credibility can only be offset by the quality of the legislative work,” says political scientist Jean-Yves Camus of the German Press Agency.
For the right-wing extremism expert Camus it is also conceivable that the new RN boss will be sent into the ring in five years, but Le Pen’s renunciation of the party leadership could also be part of her strategy for 2027. Last September, she temporarily handed over the RN presidency to her previous vice and protégé Bardella. The reason: she wants to be a candidate in the presidential election who stands above party-political differences and appeals to all citizens. It is therefore possible that Le Pen now wants to continue exactly this line and thus win over more groups of voters.
The daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen took over the Front National from her father in 2011, renamed the party and put it through its course of “demonization”. She got rid of old racist vocabulary and had her father excluded, when he again described the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of history”. In the meantime, RN is considered to be electable up to parts of the civil rights. While the party was often criticized as clumsy in the past, according to a survey by the Ipsos Institute, the MPs now receive the most approval for their appearance in the lower house of the opposition parties, at around 35 percent.
Macron, who defeated Le Pen twice, is out of office in 2027 after two terms. Who among the Liberals could follow in his footsteps? Uncertain. In the RN, many people already think their own party is the winner. Pollster Jérôme Fourquet from the Ifop Institute believes that a Le Pen victory in 2027 is a hypothesis that can no longer simply be dismissed.
How much leadership Bardella will now take is not yet clear. “The first challenge will be finding your place in relation to Marine Le Pen,” says Camus. “Will he be a simple executor, a real potential successor for 2027, or a party administrator letting the old leader do the real political work out of the National Assembly?” For L’Obs magazine, the answer is clear: Le Pen will continue to dictate the political line. With the change in leadership and the large parliamentary group, however, the time when RN was a one-woman show by Le Pen is over.