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Who really is Jordan Bardella, the young far-right French politician?

Jordan Bardella
Jordan Bardella Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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Bardella’s journey from university drop-out to potential prime minister has astonished many, highlighting his meteoric rise in just a few years. Banking on a compelling rags-to-riches story, the reality is far more nuanced.

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With Jordan Bardella as its figurehead, the French far-right National Rally (RN) party inflicted a crushing defeat upon President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, securing twice as many votes in the European elections earlier in June.

Jordan Bardella continues his rise, playing a key role in the far-right party's nearly 34 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections in France

This significant loss in the European elections led Macron to make a surprising move by calling for snap parliamentary elections.

Bardella’s journey from university dropout to potential prime minister has astonished many, testifying to a successful political storytelling campaign orchestrated by the far right.

Born in 1995 in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis in a low-income housing complex (known as "cité" in French) to a single mother, the young political prodigy has painted himself as a survivor of a rough suburb plagued by drugs and radical Islam. 

"Like many families who live in these neighbourhoods, I was confronted with violence, seeing my mother not being able to make ends meet,” he said during an interview with the French TV channel France 2 in April. 

The reality, however, is far more nuanced. 

'Self-made man' narrative false?

Jordan Bardella's childhood was divided between his mother's apartment and his father's home in the much more affluent city of Montmorency, in the northern suburbs of Paris. 

His father, who ran a drinks distribution business and was relatively well-off, has been erased from Bardella’s storytelling, said Pierre-Stéphane Fort, an investigative journalist who recently published a critical unauthorised biography of the young politician. 

“Bardella attended mostly Catholic private schools. When he was a teenager, his father took him on a long trip to the United States. When he was 19, his father bought him a Smart car. When he was 20, he gave his son an apartment in a wealthy Parisian suburb in the Val d'Oise. But all that didn't fit with the political storytelling. So it was erased,” Fort told Euronews. 

A recent Le Monde investigation tried to find traces of the young Bardella in the Saint-Denis neighbourhood that has become central to his "self-made man" narrative but couldn’t find much. 

Not many residents recalled seeing Bardella around the neighbourhood, and the few who did didn’t remember if he had a particular interest in politics or the far-right. 

Bardella’s involvement in politics started at 16 when the youngster joined the National Rally (at the time known as the National Front). 

Even back then, Bardella was already sporting his signature clean-cut look. 

He would arrive to political meetings wearing a suit, his trademark hair slicked back, looking to embody the de-demonisation that had been initiated by party leader Marine Le Pen to shake off the RN’s xenophobic and antisemitic past. 

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Jordan Bardella, left, and Marine Le Pen salute the crowd at a National Rally event in Frejus, France
Jordan Bardella, left, and Marine Le Pen salute the crowd at a National Rally event in Frejus, FranceAP Photo

“Very early on, Mr Bardella understood that to climb the ladder, he had to be irreproachable,” said the biographer, referring to interviews with other members of the party who knew Bardella in the early stages of his career. 

A few years later, Bardella dropped out of university to join the party full-time. 

He served consecutively as a regional councillor, spokesperson, and vice-president of the party before leading the National Rally's list in the 2019 European elections at just 23 years old.

In November 2022, he was elected successor of Marine Le Pen as the president of the far-right party. 

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He is currently an MEP and is favoured to become France’s prime minister if his party wins an absolute majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections. 

According to Fort, Bardella’s meteoric rise has a lot to do with his romantic relationship with the daughter of an old RN advisor, Frederick Châtillon — the former president of the Groupe Union Défense (GUD), a far-right student organisation dissolved by the government on Wednesday.

Public image, priority number one

Bardella is the first person to lead the anti-immigration National Rally party who is not a member of the Le Pen family.

Marine Le Pen succeeded her father to the party leadership in 2011 before expelling him from the party in 2015 in a bid to distance it from its most radical, far-right fringe.

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But her young successor is proving to be a major draw, attracting a younger crowd to vote for the party. 

Bardella has cultivated his personality in the media, with television appearances, and has proven adroit on social media platforms — where he deploys tropes such as trending music, sound effects and ad hoc video clips, which have proved fertile ground for attracting youth voters. 

In his own words, he uses TikTok — where he boasts more than a million followers — as a means "to reach out to young people who are depoliticised and become politicised through social media".

French Far-right party National Rally president Jordan Bardella at the European Parliament, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 in Strasbourg
French Far-right party National Rally president Jordan Bardella at the European Parliament, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 in StrasbourgAP Photo

But critics accuse him of spending too much time cultivating his public image at the expense of delving into crucial political matters.

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Left-wing European lawmaker Manon Aubry has labelled him a "ghost parliamentarian," citing his frequent absence from the European chamber over the past five years.

This echoes Fort’s observations, describing Bardella as a chameleon.

“He changes his mind very often and is capable of saying right but going left,” said the journalist. 

“When he talks to young people, he's this sort of champion of women's rights, wanting to fight global warming. He understands that these are important issues for young people. But when you look at his votes in the European Parliament, you realise that he does the opposite of what he says on social media. For example, on several occasions, he refused to condemn Poland's ban on abortion,” explained the journalist.  

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But at the end of the day, "the real boss is still Marine Le Pen, not Jordan Bardella", reminds Pierre-Stéphane Fort.

‘They work as a duo, but if Bardella were to become prime minister, she'd be consulted on all the important day-to-day political decisions,” he said. 

Video editor • Ines Trindade Pereira

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