French President Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected call for early legislative elections has made the risk of a far-right victory more likely than ever in the Fifth Republic’s history. Here’s why this should matter to the women of Eastern Europe.

June 9th, 2024, 8pm. The results of the critical 2024 European elections are under the spotlight all over Europe, with one notable exception: In France, President Emmanuel Macron has just announced the dissolution of the National Assembly and national elections for June 30th, in an unexpected “poker move” that left the country in shock.

With zero time to digest the staggering victory of the far-right party Rassemblement National (RN), the left-wing parties had to swiftly pick up their pieces and revise their strategy. While the left coalition that came as a result has provided space for a shifting dynamic, the challenge remains significant: Jordan Bardella, the 28th year-old president of RN, and the main drive behind the party’s historic success, is a tough adversary. Despite having been founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a repeatedly condemned racist and Nazi sympathizer, RN has managed to “un-demonize” their past and make the party a valid candidate among their center and left-wing adversaries. With a vulgarized media strategy that targets the most primal instincts of fear and insecurity — often referred to as a “TikTokification” of political discourse — RN has managed to secure over 31% of the votes in the European elections, 16 points ahead of the governing party. What came as especially unsettling to many French is that Bardella’s surge in popularity was largely driven by women, with more than 30% of them voting for his party — an increase of 10 points over the past five years, compared to 4 points among male voters. 

Many French voters are backing RN with the argument that “we haven’t tried them yet.” Indeed, the growing popularity of conservative regimes in response to widespread distrust in center-right governments could explain why the idea of a far-right governing France has become less alarming to some.

However, at Lazy Women, we have firsthand experience of what it truly means to be governed by a party that prioritizes national “order” and “patriotism” as a core value.

Through our “Making it in Western Europe” podcast series, we have seen how many young women have been forced to flee to the West, away from countries where the far-right allies of Bardella have either risen to power or gained popularity, threatening their hard-won rights and freedoms. Consequently, adopting a “let’s see what happens” attitude is not only irrelevant but potentially dangerous: as we approach the elections, with the latest polls showing RN to lead by more than six points over their opponents, we decided to look closer into what their victory would really mean, especially when it comes to the interests of our Lazy Women community.

Taking a very quick look into RN’s historical positions and the voting behavior of its members, the situation becomes painfully clear: a far-right government led by Jordan Bardella as French Prime Minister would pose an undeniable threat to women, marginalized groups, and immigrant minorities not only in France but all over Europe:

To realize the threat that RN poses to women, it suffices to look into their votes – or, in fact, their absence of votes – when it comes to several advances in terms of women’s rights. RN has consistently abstained from or voted against advancing women’s rights in Europe, including the right to abortion, domestic violence prevention, and equal pay:

  1. Abortion: In November 2020, the Parliament passed a resolution condemning the drastic restrictions on the right to abortion in Poland. The 23 RN MEPs voted against this condemnation. They did so again a year later, arguing that the text undermined Poland’s “sovereignty”. Not to mention the dangerous statements of many RN deputies that show their real stance around this fundamental right: one of the very newest RN deputies, Christophe Bentz has compared abortion to a “mass genocide” (2011) whereas an RN candidate, Agnes Pageard, has said that “abortion kills a lot more than covid”.
  2. Equal Pay: At the end of 2021, RN MEPs did not take part in the vote on the Equal Pay Act (Loi Rixain). In May 2023, the RN abstained from the European directive “on transparency and equal pay,” which sought to enforce equal pay for men and women for the same work or work of equal value.
  3. Sexual harassment: Also, in 2021, the MEPs voted against a resolution providing for training against sexual harassment in the EU institutions. In 2023, RN MEPs abstained from the adoption of a report calling on EU countries to do more to combat sexual harassment.
  4. Domestic violence: In 2023 the RN abstained from the EU’s adoption of the Istanbul Convention on “preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”.

A potential far-right victory in France would also mean that Jordan Bardella would join as a PM the Council of the EU, one of the central institutional forces that negotiates and adopts EU legislation. This scenario would certainly strengthen the influence of sovereignist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe and establish a Eurosceptic force, which, according to French political experts, could “paralyze” the decision-making processes and the European project as a whole.

“A far-right government led by Jordan Bardella as French Prime Minister would pose an undeniable threat to women, marginalized groups, and immigrant minorities not only in France but all over Europe”

Besides, Jordan Bardella has already warned about his intentions: “Today we have an opportunity to change the EU from the inside with allies, which was obviously not possible 10 years ago.” But who are these allies that he refers to, really? Despite expelling from their EU group the German representatives due to their pro-Nazi statements, RN’s current allies in the East still include some of the most openly racist and anti-LGBTQ party leaders in countries such as the Czech Republic, Romania, and Estonia.

Bear in mind that in the last presidential elections in France, Jordan Bardella explicitly applauded Brexit, Donald Trump, and the rise of far-right, anti-immigration governments in Hungary and Poland: “The patriotic wave we’ve just experienced in France echoes what we’ve already seen for several years in many countries. Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump’s victory in the USA, followed by the assertion of patriotic governments in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Poland, show us that we’re facing a global phenomenon: the rejection of a globalist policy.

In reality, this rhetoric is just an embellished way to express the systemic racism that lies in the core of the party’s ideology. Similarly to the strategy of every far-right regime that has ever risen to power, immigrants are the cause of all our problems — poverty, violence, insecurity — and getting them out of “our” country should solve them. RN candidates and voters may deny their racism all they want, but defending a “French identity” and statements like “we don’t recognize our own neighborhoods anymore” speak for themselves.

History has taught us that creating an “us” versus “them” is the most dangerous path to take, and as Lazy Women, we must fight against this divisive rhetoric and the hatred it perpetuates.

Written by Frosso Papanastasiou.