‘We’re everywhere now’: National Rally members toast EU elections success

<span>With 88 members of parliament, National Rally is currently the biggest single opposition party in the French government.</span><span>Photograph: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Images</span>
With 88 members of parliament, National Rally is currently the biggest single opposition party in the French government.Photograph: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Images

At a smart party venue overlooking the woodland of the Bois de Vincennes, east of Paris, members of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National, or RN) clinked glasses to the sound of jazz piano. Savouring their historic result in the European elections, they were also looking forward with excitement to the sudden, shock parliamentary election in France.

“We’re ready for power if French people put their trust in us,” said Le Pen to cheers and applause from senior party officials in suits and cocktail dresses, after the president, Emmanuel Macron, made the dramatic and unexpected announcement that he was dissolving the French parliament in the wake of the results. The election, called for three weeks’ time, saw Le Pen’s anti-immigration party, with around 31% of the vote, come first – and more than double the score of the president’s pro-European centrists.

Smiling, Le Pen said her party best represented France and had succeeded in capturing French people’s daily concerns, which her party officials say are immigration, the cost of living and a feeling of insecurity and fear of crime. “When the people vote, the people win,” she said.

The RN’s European score of over 30% is an unprecedented high for the party, a clear defeat for Macron and, in the words of one senior party member, a “stepping stone” to the presidential election in three years’ time.

But few among the elected officials and canvassers who had gathered at the celebration party overlooking one of Paris’s most picturesque parks had expected Macron to drop the bombshell of dissolving the French parliament on Sunday night.

As the president made the announcement on television, a roar of cheers went up across the room. It was exactly what Le Pen had wanted Macron to do – the RN has 88 members of parliament and is currently the biggest single opposition party in parliament. Le Pen said this score could now be vastly increased to “consecrate our movement as the great alternative political force” in France. Macron’s party, which for the past two years has struggled with no absolute majority in parliament, could not have limped on, a party adviser said.

“It’s going to be very hard to stop us now,” said Aymeric Durox, an RN senator. The 38-year-old former history teacher in the well-heeled town of Fontainebleau had seen first-hand how this European election had won over new higher-earning, highly educated voters and public-sector workers.

“We’re everywhere now,” he said. “There is no more fortress that is impossible for us to take. We have voters in every sector of life, every profession.”

Durox said the significant rise in teachers who voted for the party in the last French presidential election in 2022 had already shown that the party could reach beyond its traditional heartlands. “It’s something that a few years ago would have been unthinkable,” he said.

When Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old party president who led the European election campaign, strode into the room to give a triumphant victory speech, he was accompanied by some of the RN’s parliamentarians to send a message about the party’s position not just in Europe, but in France. Behind him, a screen read: “France is back.”

Bardella is credited with appealing to voters who would have been put off by Jean-Marie Le Pen. He does not seek to dilute the party’s hardline anti-immigration message, which has not changed since the 1970s; instead he wants to make it respectable and fully mainstream.

“French citizens have shown tonight that they want change,” Bardella said. “Tonight a wind of hope has risen over France and it is only just beginning.” He said the European vote was a “repudiation and clear rejection” of Macron’s politics.

“Tonight, Emmanuel Macron is a weakened president. He already lacked an absolute majority in parliament, and now his margin for action has shrunk at the heart of the European parliament,” Bardella said.

For months, Le Pen has been suggesting that Bardella – who was elected to the European parliament five years ago when he was 23 and has very high popularity ratings – could be a potential prime minister. Now, senior party figures were putting Bardella forward as the figurehead for the new parliamentary campaign.

Near the cheese platter, the carefully laid-out designer finger-food and chardonnay wine in ice buckets, a young advertising executive from Normandy said his feeling from his months canvassing on the European campaign trail was that the party had been swelled by rural and farming communities expressing anger at Macron, but also by new professionals who had never before voted for the RN.

“Before, we had an electorate that was more working class. Now we’re attracting managers, senior staff in big companies,” he said. He had seen local membership in his branch of the party in Calvados rise from six people to 51 in less than a year. “I joined the party six years ago and I’ve seen a change. It’s interesting how renaming the party and getting rid of the old name, Front National, has made a difference. The driving force of our ideas has remained the same: security and the fight against mass immigration.”

Gilles Penelle, an RN regional councillor in Brittany and senior party official, said the RN’s growing support in places such as Brittany, once a pro-European stronghold for Macron’s centrists, showed that “there is a message being sent that there is a countryside in France that feels abandoned, and forgotten, even in Brittany. When you take away the city of Rennes and the tourist coast, there is another Brittany that no one’s talking about – that Brittany is not on the postcards, it’s suffering, it feels forgotten, abandoned.”

Penelle said Macron was now facing an “national political crisis” unprecedented in modern France. He said the president had had no choice but to call a parliamentary election in France because the governing centrists’ poor performance was directly attributable Macron himself, and his prime minister, Gabriel Attal, who had been actively campaigning.

“This party is at the gates of power in France,” said Hervé Moreau, a former senior gendarme from Burgundy who recently joined the RN. He said its result in the European elections meant that “in people’s minds, this party is the political alternative”.