Political donations in France swerve to the right as Le Pen’s niece raises more than Macron

<span>Marion Maréchal’s Reconquête received €5.5m from private donors in 2022, while Marine Le Pen’s National Rally secured €604,000.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Design/Getty Images/AFP/Corbis</span>
Marion Maréchal’s Reconquête received €5.5m from private donors in 2022, while Marine Le Pen’s National Rally secured €604,000.Composite: Guardian Design/Getty Images/AFP/Corbis

Political funding in France has swerved to the right, with private donations to the small nationalist group backed by Marine Le Pen’s niece overtaking those raised by President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party.

Reconquête received €5.5m (£4.7m) from private donors in 2022, the year Macron secured a second term after a final round showdown against Le Pen, analysis by the Guardian of the annual reports of the 15 main French parties shows.

The figure was nine times more than the €604,000 taken by Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), and comfortably ahead of the €3.7m Macron’s Renaissance party secured from private backers that year.

The findings come from Transparency Gap, a project involving the Guardian and 25 other media partners, coordinated by the investigative journalism platform Follow the Money and published before next month’s European parliament elections. The team gathered and analysed more than 200 financial reports published by European political parties between 2019 and 2022, the most recent year for which full data is available.

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Founded in November 2021 by the former journalist and pundit Éric Zemmour, Reconquête has garnered a following among some of France’s wealthy elites – and been joined by Le Pen’s niece. Marion Maréchal, who dropped Le Pen from her name after a rift with her aunt in 2018, defected to the fledgling party. Maréchal is now leading Reconquête’s European election campaign.

In total Reconquête secured 22% of all non-public money in France – only marginally more than Renaissance, giving it €14.2m from a range of private sources including membership fees, donations by party candidates and officials and other income streams like fundraising events.

The term non-public excludes state funding, which many EU countries provide for their political parties.

Macron’s Renaissance secured €13.8m in non-public funding, and RN just €4.2m.

French law guarantees privacy to all donors, meaning the public has no right to know which private interests are financing their elected representatives.

However, a leak published by the investigations website Mediapart in 2022 found Reconquête had secured what were described as “colossal” sums from industrialists, bankers, high-flying lawyers and management consultants at a series of glitzy fundraising dinners. Backers include Chantal Bolloré, the sister of the billionaire businessman and media owner Vincent Bolloré.

At the time Chantal Bolloré, who sits on the board of directors of the family group, told Mediapart she did not remember how much she contributed. “ I think it’s €1,000,” she said. Contacted by the Guardian, her representatives declined to comment further.

Reconquête also turbo-boosted its finances through membership fees, and data suggested it collected €5.7m, well ahead of the €630,000 gathered by Renaissance and four times the €1.5m gathered by RN. According to Reconquête, by early 2022 it had recruited 25,000 members, 75% of whom donated up to €150 each.

Samuel Lafont, the director of digital strategy and fundraising for Reconquête, put the party’s success down to three things: a novelty factor; a massive drive for donations; and membership.

“We asked people to make membership donations. It may seem usual in the Anglo-Saxon world but for most parties in France, this is often a foreign idea,” he said.

“Most political parties in France don’t have people who are competent in fundraising. Technically we were also much better on the internet, on marketing and fundraising, and that makes a notable difference, so much so that the competing parties have since copied us.”

Follow the Money, an investigative journalism outlet, collected financial declarations and accounts for 200 political parties across the EU’s 27 member states. The data analysis was coordinated by the Guardian after checks on the data with individual reporters in every country.

The analysis uses party designations – namely far right, far left, populist and Eurosceptic – as defined by The PopuList, an academic research group that analyses and classifies European political parties, covering the period up to 2022.

Relevant parties were defined as those currently represented in the European parliament, those likely to field candidates in next month's elections, and those considered relevant at a national level, for example, parties with some seats in each country’s national parliament.

The analysis runs from 2019 to 2022. It excludes 2023 as many parties have yet to publish their declarations for that year.

We have used the term non-public funding to describe money raised from private sources. These include:

- Private donations: either from individuals, companies or other organisations.

- Membership fees.

- Donations from politicians or party officials.

The non-public funding category excludes:

- Donations classed as “other” such as money raised from dinners, auctions, merchandise, lottery ticket sales, and income from property assets due to a lack of uniformity across countries and parties.

- Loans from donors, banks and other bank products.

- Money provided by the state, typically based on the number of seats each party holds in parliament.

For the article titled “Political donations in France swerve to right” we were able to include income classed as “other”, such as fundraising events, in the non-public donations category.

Membership fees for Italy have been excluded from the country-by-country analysis because of inconsistencies in how the parties report this income.

Two countries were excluded entirely: Austria, because of the regional nature of party disclosures meant a universal figure could not be reliably recorded; and

Lithuania, because its political parties are not obliged to report annual financial statements.

The arrival of Zemmour’s party on the political scene at the end of 2021, and his push for the presidency, caused huge disruption to the political landscape in France. A proponent of hardline anti-Islam and anti-immigration views, as well as the promoter of the far-right “great replacement” theory, Zemmour has been convicted on multiple occasions over hate speech.

Ultimately, the donations jackpot did not deliver him the presidency and Maréchal in recent weeks has appeared open to forging a new alliance with RN, which is top of the polling predictions for the European elections at 31% share of the vote compared with Reconquête’s 7%.

Reconquête has only one seat in the European parliament but is hoping to increase that to five or six in June and flex its muscle in the rightwing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) political group, which surprised many when it opened its door to the far-right party’s one MEP in Brussels in February.

The prospect of Zemmour increasing his power in the alliance poses a challenge for the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who may have to rely on ECR to win enough votes for a second term.

ECR is also home to Giorgia Meloni’s party Brothers of Italy, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) and Spain’s Vox.