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The 28-Year-Old Who Could Soon Be France’s Prime Minister

A Decade ago Jordan Bardella was a mere teenager, spending hours after school firing at enemy combatants on “Call of Duty” video games.

Today the 28-year-old leader of the hard-right National Rally may be weeks away from becoming prime minister of France, and its youngest ever by a long way.

After a two-round legislative election on June 30th and July 7th, his party could win enough seats to form a government.

The ascent of Marine Le Pen’s young protégé from obscurity to the cusp of high office is one of the more improbable in modern French politics.

The son of an Italian-born mother and a father whose family arrived in France from Italy, Mr Bardella grew up in social housing in Seine-Saint-Denis, a multicultural northern banlieue (suburb) of Paris. What could have held him back in life became his political selling-point.

“I have my roots there, a part of myself and my family’s history,” Mr Bardella told Le Monde, recalling the drug dealers that hung out on a battered sofa on the landing outside his flat. “I’m in politics for everything that I lived through back there.”

This backstory, as well as his unusual poise, grabbed Ms Le Pen’s eye early on. Both assets were politically valuable for a party that, under her stewardship since 2011, has been trying to transform itself from a fringe xenophobic protest outfit into a party that speaks for the people and promises to govern on their behalf.

At the age of 16, Mr Bardella joined the party because of Ms Le Pen’s takeover.

Seven years later—after he had dropped out of a geography degree at the Sorbonne university and gone into local politics—she picked him to lead her party into elections in 2019 to the European Parliament.

A year earlier, she had changed its name from the tainted National Front she inherited from her antisemitic, xenophobic father to the National Rally (RN), a name with more mainstream associations.

Not everyone within the party was happy with Mr Bardella’s hasty rise. Rivals considered him too young, inexperienced and disconnected from core party loyalists.

Mr Bardella’s formal consecration came in 2022, when he beat Ms Le Pen’s former romantic partner, Louis Aliot, to be elected president of the RN.

That freed Ms Le Pen from daily party affairs (she remains head of its bloc in parliament, and will undoubtedly be its nominee for the next presidential race, in 2027).

Since then, Mr Bardella has earned respect among a generation of younger rn figures. “He has an impressive work ethic and maturity,” says Jean-Philippe Tanguy, an outgoing rn deputy, adding that Mr Bardella’s asset is that he is open to criticism but “ruthless with pointless whiners.”

To voters, Mr Bardella has lent the RN a presentable modern face and unflappable style. A child of the screen era, Mr Bardella has in the past posted clips on a YouTube channel in which he commentated on his video-game performances.

Today he has 1.6m followers on TikTok, and mixes campaign clips with those of himself squeezing mayonnaise into a hotdog or climbing aboard a fishing trawler in the fog. “He looks like a nice guy” is a typical comment made by voters on the ground who have no ideological link to the rn.

What lies behind that smooth exterior, though, remains something of a mystery. In his short career, Mr Bardella has never held a job outside politics.

Fixated on the sanitisation of the party, he baulks at any reference to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s antisemitic era, or the unsavoury figures who linger in party circles from that time.

The young rn president owes his promotion to Ms Le Pen, and colleagues say that his loyalty to her is absolute. But politics is what it is; such fidelity has so far been untested. Differences between them do exist.

The party formerly borrowed money from a Kremlin-linked bank, and deputies abstained at a parliamentary vote earlier this year on France’s bilateral security agreement with Ukraine.

Mr Bardella, though, has recently sounded a somewhat more critical note about Vladimir Putin, blaming escalation on the Russian leader; Ms Le Pen tends to point the finger at President Emmanuel Macron, who has refused to rule out putting boots on the ground in Ukraine.

If he is nominated as prime minister, Mr Bardella’s manifesto will be a mix of economic populism and hard-right nationalism.

He has promised “in the first weeks” to tighten immigration rules to make it easier to expel “Islamist foreigners”, and abolish the right to French nationality for those born in the country.

He also vows “immediately” to lower the level of vat from 20% to 5.5% on electricity and gas bills as well as on motor fuel, and to use tax-breaks to raise salaries by up to 10%. Mr Bardella would cut benefits to parents of underage repeat offenders, and turn the current mansion tax into a financial-wealth tax.

He has been more cautious, though, about promising to overturn Mr Macron’s pension reform, which raised the legal minimum retirement age from 62 years to 64; instead, he vows to enable those who started work at the age of 20 to retire at 60.

How such measures would be financed remains alarmingly vague. Renaissance, Mr Macron’s party, calculates that the vat cuts on energy, fuel and food bills alone would cost €24bn ($26bn) a year.

The Institut Montaigne, a liberal think-tank, estimates that, on the basis of Ms Le Pen’s manifesto at the presidential election in 2022, the RN in government would cost a net €100bn extra each year, equivalent to about 3.5% of gdp.

That would add to an already high budget deficit, which the government expects to run at over 5% of GDP this year.

Yet the trouble for centrist voters hoping to obstruct his path to the Matignon, as the French prime minister’s office in Paris is known, is that Mr Bardella has so far managed to shrug off inconvenient details or failings.

That he grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis is widely known; less so, that he attended a private Catholic school there, not the public lycée.

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