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‘I’m 25 and voted for France’s far-right

PARIS – Young voters in France say they turned to a once taboo, far-right party in frustration and growing anger at President Emmanuel Macron, after Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) surged to a thumping victory in Sunday’s first round of snap elections.

The historic results have put the nationalist, anti-immigrant party – which won 33 per cent of the national vote, far ahead of the left-wing New Popular Front coalition and Mr Macron’s centre-right Renaissance party – on the verge of becoming the biggest force in French politics, upturning decades of popular resistance to the far right.

RN has surged in popularity among young people, with supporters who spoke to i echoing the party’s denials of racism and insisting it has evolved since its early years, when it collaborated with the Nazis.

Kolyne Hertault, a 25-year-old working in a hospital in Normandy, told i she was particularly concerned about housing and healthcare.

“We do not have the right to social housing because our salaries are too high, but too low to be able to take out a mortgage, so what do we do? Do we live outside?” she said.

“I have a sick two-year-old boy [who needs to be treated].”

Ms Hertault said French President Emmanuel Macron had failed middle-class families (Photo: Supplied)

Ms Hertault, whose husband is a firefighter, said she voted for RN – for the second time, after the presidential election in 2022 – because of Mr Macron’s failure to support middle-class families like hers across Europe’s second largest economy.

“We are devoted to our country, hearts and souls, but for what? And for who?” she asked.

Ms Hertault believes Mr Macron, who is struggling to rein in a spiralling domestic debt crisis, has “squandered French money helping other countries” and offered little during his seven years in office: “He is frankly of no use.”

Other voters, who turned out in their highest numbers since the 1980s, said RN’s promises to improve the daily lives of normal people resonated with them – despite critics saying the party’s proposals were not financially viable.

“It is the political party supporting the French in their purchasing power through a clear and precise programme,” said Anthony Mascré, a jobless 29-year-old living in the Somme, northern France, where unemployment rates are among France’s highest.

Mr Mascré added that he had shifted support from France’s traditional right-wing party the Republicans towards RN as the latter had changed its image, in particular with the arrival of its slick new 28-year-old president, Jordan Bardella.

“It is no longer a far-right party like it was before in the 2010s, it has evolved a lot ideologically,” said Mr Mascré, who added that the fact he was gay did not prevent him from supporting the party. “Bardella brought many things, his youth appeals to many voters, his programme is less extreme.”

Although 48 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 38 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds backed the left’s coalition, 33 per cent and 32 per cent respectively supported the far right at the ballot box, underlining the momentum gained by RN, boosted by smart TikTok campaigns and extensive coverage in far-right media backed by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré.

RN’s hardline policies on immigration, including plans to scrap nationality rights for children born and raised in France by foreign parents and to give French people priority over non-nationals for jobs, remain popular as ever.

“I’m not racist,” said Johanne, a 37-year-old from Moselle, near the Swiss border. “But I’m fed up with being a cash cow, seeing our compatriots die at the hands of migrants, feeling insecure, not knowing what the future will be like for our children.”

It is now likely that next Sunday’s decisive second round of voting will see a far-right party win a parliamentary election for the first time ever in France, forcing Mr Macron, whose gamble on calling early elections has been a disaster, to appoint Mr Bardella as prime minister.

Whatever the result, the deeply fractured state of France in 2024 is undeniable.

“Macron and his entourage are all fascists and they are destroying this country,” said Geoffrey, a 32-year-old from Amiens, northern France. “We will remain mobilised for the National Rally until the end.”

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