By Davide Basso
(EurActiv) — France’s traditionally anti-establishment far-right has changed tack with Rassemblement National leader Marine Le Pen taking steps to institutionalise her party in a bid to gain power.
Le Pen’s Front National – recently rebranded as Rassemblement National – has long been excluded from decision-making functions at local and national levels.
Rassemblement National “is not taken as a serious party,” far-right specialist Jean-Yves Camus told EURACTIV in an interview.
Path towards institutionalisation
But since Le Pen was nominated to head the party in 2012, “the strategy of de-demonisation” has been working, he added.
The strategy bore fruit in the latest elections, where Le Pen obtained a record 42% in the second round of the presidential elections against French President Emmanuel Macron.
A few weeks after the presidential election, Le Pen’s party broke another record in the June legislative elections, in which it obtained 89 seats after it had only obtained eight in the previous elections five years earlier, allowing the party to secure key positions in government.
“It is the voters who have institutionalised us,” Rassemblement National Lawmaker for the Somme, Jean-Philippe Tanguy, told EURACTIV in an interview shortly after he was elected.
In the process, the far-right party managed to secure, thanks to the presidential majority and the right-wing party Les Républicains, two of the six vice-president positions in the assembly for Sébastien Chenu and Hélène Laporte – a first for the far-right.
Aurore Bergé, president of Macron’s Renaissance group in the assembly, explained this, citing the need to have “a fair representation” in the assembly’s bureau.
A new generation
France’s far-right has a few new faces with prestigious backgrounds.
These include Jean-Phillippe Tanguy, a young Science Po graduate who was very close to obtaining the post of president of the Assembly’s finance committee. However, he ultimately lost to Eric Coquerel of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise.
Others include Alexandre Loubet, another Science Po graduate, and Laurent Jacobelli, former director of programmes at TV5 Monde.
The ‘new generation’, as well as Le Pen, are now positioning themselves as “Gaullists”, dropping the openly racist, antisemitic and anti-establishment stances the Front National had in the 1980s.
Even those who recently steered further to the right and joined the Rassemblement National – like MEPs Jean-Paul Garraud and Thierry Mariani, a former minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s former cabinet – are adopting the same rhetoric.
“Objectively [the Front National and the Rassemblement National] have nothing to do with each other. They are two different rights. And even Marine Le Pen does not claim to be right-wing,” said Tanguy.
Such a view is not shared by those who oppose the party, as those on the left or in the presidential majority continue to call the party the “National Front” despite the rebrand.
Respecting the institutions
The Rassemblement National, now the largest opposition group in the National Assembly, is enjoying its new influential position.
“Alumni from Sciences Po and ESSEC contact us because we are the first [opposition] group. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it”, explained Tanguy. “The more people you have [in the Assembly], the more help you get”, he continued
As for the other deputies not so used to appearing on TV, the party has vowed to provide them with training and avoid blunders like the time candidates in the legislative election campaign were unable to answer journalist questions about the party’s programme.
The party’s image also seems to have become important.
“We are not La France Insoumise; we don’t come in flip-flops and flowery shirts”, she exclaimed during a videoconference with the newly elected members, reported Le Monde.
Men from the party have also been asked to wear ties in the Chamber though this is no longer compulsory and many colleagues from other parties no longer wear them.
Apart from shirts and ties, Rassemblement National’s institutionalisation also seems reflected in its attitude within the assembly, as Le Pen has promised that she will be in constructive opposition and refuses to engage in obstructionist practices.
Recently, the vice-president of the National Assembly, Rassemblement National’s Sébastien Chenu, has assured that his group will not vote the motion of censure tabled by the left-wing alliance called NUPES.
“We are not here to block and break everything”, he told broadcaster RTL on Monday (4 July), adding that “we are here to propose solutions for the French.”
With five years to go before the next presidential elections in 2027, it appears Rassemblement National is already planting the seeds to show it is capable of governing.