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FRANCE — Jordan Bardella is shaking things up in French politics. He’s young. He’s handsome like a male fashion model, and since 2022, he’s been president of the National Rally, the new name for the National Front party founded in 1972 by controversial far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. The party has moved on from its far-right roots, becoming more of a populist party under Le Pen’s daughter, Marine. 

“Jordan Bardella, the right-wing 28-year-old without a college degree, could be the French prime minister in a few weeks,” says Thomas Corbett-Dillon, a former adviser to former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and adviser to other European politicians. “This is great news for the French people that have suffered relentless attacks on their culture by left-wing Macron and the millions of migrants he imported.”

Bardella was born into a family of Italian immigrants and excelled in school before attending the country’s top university, the Sorbonne. However, he dropped out before earning a degree to pursue a career in politics. His parents divorced at an early age, and he was largely brought up by his mother in a working-class neighborhood in the Paris suburbs.

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Jordan Bardella

Rassemblement National President and electoral list leader Jordan Bardella poses for a selfie with supporters during a campaign rally for the upcoming European elections in Montbeliard, eastern France, March 22, 2024.  (Patrick Hertzog/AFP via Getty Images)

The reason Bardella has a chance at being the next French prime minister is due to the country’s electorate swing to the populist right in the European Union elections at the beginning of the month. France led the way with the National Rally snagging 31.5% of the votes, making it the most popular French political block in the election.

That led President Emmanuel Macron to call a snap parliamentary election for the end of the month.

“[Macron] called an urgent election to try and surprise the National Rally party before they were ready,” Corbett-Dillon says. “The people across France have woken up and are sick of the left-wing policies.”

Still, there are other changes that might seem to make Bardella and National Rally more popular to the French. Specifically, Bardella and Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, have a different way of doing things compared to Marine’s father, says French-born Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. 

Jordan Bardella poster

Women pose in front of a poster of the head of the Rassemblement National far-right party, Jordan Bardella, during the launching event of the movement “Les Jeunes avec Bardella” (Youth with Bardella) in Paris, Jan. 27, 2024. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

“Jean-Marie’s demeanor was not fitting in with the French elite,” de Rugy says. “When I see Marine and Jordan, they fit very well.” 

In addition, neither Bardella nor Madame Le Pen push antisemitic rhetoric as did Mr. Le Pen. 

“They are not Jean-Marie,” de Rugy says. She also notes the usual “far right” description of the National Rally isn’t quite accurate. Yes, the party does have an anti-immigrant and protectionist stance on imported goods, which are both far right, she says. But on domestic issues, the party is quite different. 

“These guys are more inclined to big government programs,” she says. Such things include the hefty cost of state-funded pensions and other social safety nets.

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Another thing drawing voters to the National Rally is the high unemployment of young people between 15 and 24. Recent data shows that the so-called youth unemployment rate was running at 17.8%, according to data from April. That’s up from 16.8% at the beginning of last year. 

That high youth unemployment rate may be due to a lack of education or skills, says Ivo Pezzuto, a Paris-based professor of global economics and competitiveness at the ISM Business School. 

“There are a lot of jobs but only for the people with the new skills,” Pezzuto says. “Those most likely to get jobs would include people with digital know-how.”

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, center, and deputies, including Sebastien Chenu to her left and Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, to her right, participate in a march against antisemitism from the Esplanade des Invalides to the Senate Nov. 12, 2023, in Paris. (Antoine Gyori/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

However, Bardella and the National Rally face some huge challenges. First, winning a majority in the French parliament isn’t the most likely outcome, says Mujtaba Rahman, Eurasia Group’s managing director for EuropeInstead, he says the likelihood of a victory is “non-negligible” with a 30% chance of the National Rally winning a majority of the parliamentary seats.

If Bardella beats the odds and gets a parliamentary majority, it still won’t be easy to pursue new policy programs, Rahman says. Part of that block will likely be President Macron, who some say leans a tad to the left. That means there will likely be a clash of policy goals between the president and the prime minister.

“Never have we had a co-habitation of such big ideological differences,” Rahman says.

There’s also the potential for problems with government spending. Notably, as a European Union member, France is obliged to stick to limits on how much of a fiscal deficit it runs as a percentage of GDP. The issue that Rahman sees popping up is Macron trying to constrain spending by Bardella. 

“It’s not clear [Macron would] be able to do that,” Rahman says. “I think there would be a period of experimentation and uncertainty resulting in the constitution being tested.” 

The result could put France’s finances in the spotlight, and that may already be beginning.

Jordan Bardella campaigning

National Rally lead candidate Jordan Bardella delivers a speech at the party election night headquarters June 9, 2024, in Paris. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

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Investors have shown their concerns over the past few days since Macron called the snap vote. The Paris CAC index (roughly the French equivalent of the Dow Jones index) had subsequently dropped 4% last week. And its finances are stretched. The country had a debt of 111% of its GDP at the end of last year. 

And the same year, its deficit rose to 5.5% of GDP. The EU requires member states to run deficits no higher than 3%. 

“The new government will have a severe fiscal constraint,” says Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at currency specialist Bannockburn Global Forex. In other words, whoever gets a majority in the French parliament, there won’t be much wiggle room. 

Chandler also sees an increased risk of France leaving the EU. 

“It’s a tail risk, but the tail has gotten a bit bigger,” he said.

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