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The National Rally in full change

Photo: Geoffroy Van der Hasselt Agence France-Presse The president of the Republicans, Éric Ciotti, and the president of the National Rally group in the Assembly, Marine Le Pen, in Paris, Monday

Never has the National Rally (RN) been so close to power. All the polls have been predicting for two weeks that the party with the tricolor flame will win a majority of seats in the legislative elections of June 30 and July 7. It remains to be seen whether this majority will be relative or absolute. But is it really a surprise ?

Not for CNRS research director Luc Rouban, author of The real victory of the RN (Les Presses de Sciences Po). “In 2022, the RN had lost the presidential election, but it had become the center of gravity of all the rights and the crossroads of all the expectations that were emerging in the electorate,” says the author of this premonitory book. Ultimately, he was to become the big winner. This is what is happening before our eyes. »

According to Luc Rouban, we are witnessing live these days what he calls the second mutation of the RN. “The first was to distance itself from the former National Front (FN), to abandon anti-Semitic themes and to no longer behave like a kind of small extremist party that launched imprecations in the style of Jean-Marie Le Pen. This change consisted of putting social issues back into its program and abandoning neoliberalism and leaving the European Union. Marine Le Pen also cut ties with a certain moral conservatism since she voted for the inclusion of the right to abortion in the Constitution. »

A government party

But what is happening these days is of a different nature, he says. “With the rallying of part of the Republicans, the RN is positioning itself as a government party. He is already starting to explain that financial circles should not be panicked and that his program will only be put into practice gradually. Substantive reforms, such as national preference and the referendum on immigration, will have to wait until the 2027 presidential election.”

According to the researcher, this is exactly what happened in Italy with Giorgia Meloni, who united the rights in order to develop a more security and more nationalist policy while taking into account financial and budgetary imperatives as well as the European Union which controls the borders.

It is also a question for the RN of not falling into the trap set for it by Emmanuel Macron, says the researcher. “The president's bet is to say: 'You want power? I'll give you Matignon and, if you're burned, you'll be out of the running for the presidential election!' » In order to get around this trap, says Luc Rouban, the RN's solution consists of forming an alliance with Les Républicains, who have experience of power, knowledge of the workings of the State, networks, skills and many local elected officials. .

It must be said that the RN of 2024 no longer has much in common with the small group of the beginnings, he explains. All the surveys show that it is now recruiting from all categories of the population. “Even the middle and upper classes are increasingly seduced. It is no longer a populist vote opposing the “people” to the “elites”. You have a part of the educated people who find themselves in a right-wing party that has refocused and abandoned the excesses of the FN. These new voters do not come from the left, but from the right. They are both disappointed with the Macronists and the Republicans. »

Even retirees and women

If Luc Rouban is to be believed, French political life is returning to the good old right-left opposition. “Macronism was initially intended to be purely managerial, making people believe that this divide could be overcome. Then, it gradually aligned itself more with the right, as centrists have always done in France. We are therefore returning to the normal opposition between the right and the left.” The latter is now a very small minority in France, he specifies.

While many observers believe that the strong participation expected in the first and second rounds could favor the New Popular Front, bringing together the left-wing parties, this is not at all the opinion of Luc Rouban. “By studying the abstentionists in the 2019 European elections, we see that a third switched to the RN in 2024 and that this did not benefit the left. Moreover, the sociology of abstainers is very close to that of RN voters. They are often people disillusioned by political life, often poorly educated and of modest means. »

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All the surveys also show that, in recent years, even retirees and women have switched to the RN. According to Luc Rouban, the question of security is central to explaining this shift, particularly in rural areas. The riots of June 2023 where businesses were burned and police stations were attacked left their mark. However, he says, “the issue of security particularly affects women. There is a real problem of respect for authority in France with violence which has objectively increased. This is also linked to immigration, which is poorly regulated since we are unable to send back illegal immigrants, which creates dramatic situations for everyone. This opinion is the majority among the population.”

A need for democracy

Behind the RN vote, Luc Rouban also detects a great need for democracy, as the Yellow Vests brutally expressed in 2018. “The logic of the Fifth Republic is representative democracy, but also a portion of direct democracy with referendums, which we seem to have forgotten for a very long time. This balance has been disrupted to the point of causing a fundamental democratic crisis. Emmanuel Macron never heard this request, preferring to manage the State like a manager of the private sector by concentrating all powers at the Élysée. »

In 2000, a constitutional reform also aligned the legislative elections with the presidential ones, removing this recourse which served in practice in France as “midterm elections” allowing voters to express their dissatisfaction. Luc Rouban can only note “a growing discontent among the working classes who see their children obtain diplomas without being able to obtain positions commensurate with them.”

And the Olympic Games ?

The National Rally is not in power and demonstrations are already taking place in several cities. National Education executives openly called for disobedience. Five journalists from the France Télévisions editorial team were “put away” until July 8 for having signed an article calling for a “common front against the far right”. Judges and magistrates grouped in the Magistrates' Union, clearly oriented to the left, even warned that they would take part in the “collective movement of union and resistance” against the far right. Even if it means not applying the new government's laws, say some activists.

Older people remember that in 2007 the election of Nicolas Sarkozy was followed by several nights of riots at Place de la Nation. In less than two weeks, the reaction could be much worse, estimates Luc Rouban. “Since Nicolas Sarkozy, violence has escalated. We saw this with the pension reform and the violence of the Black Blocs which directly attack the police forces. We must expect very harsh demonstrations from the radical left and the unions. We risk having social conflicts, blockages and demonstrations with obvious risks of violence, that's for sure! »

Is this explosion of violence, if it occurs, likely to pose problems when, barely two weeks after the second round, the eyes of the world will be focused on France where the Olympic Games will take place ? For Luc Rouban, there is not the slightest doubt.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116