On June 22, 2022, 89 deputies from the National Rally entered the Palais-Bourbon with one instruction: do not make waves. With a view to the presidential election of 2027, Marine Le Pen is firming up her troops to try to avoid xenophobic excesses and complete her great work of normalization.Source: ©At the National Assembly, the RN blends into the landscape
It's a photo like a trophy, a snapshot that the deputies of the National Rally (RN) look at when morale falters. Sébastien Chenu received it "hundreds of times" on the part of militants, who, like him, see in it a foretaste of the seizure of power. In the image, the deputy (RN) of the North, Vice President of the National Assembly, overlooks Marine Le Pen, who speaks at the podium.
It is Monday, October 10, 2022, the finalist in the presidential election sets out her group's position on the finance bill, and Sébastien Chenu has just replaced the Renaissance deputy (the new name of La République en Marche) Yaël Braun- Pivet, President of the National Assembly, to lead the meeting. The leader at the podium, her second at the perch. The majestic symbol of the express institutionalization of the far-right party. Sébastien Chenu cannot hold back a small grin of satisfaction as he concludes Marine Le Pen's speech with a very solemn note: “Thank you, Madam President. »
For the RN, the National Assembly is no longer a chore and not just a chamber of Parliament: it has been, for six months, its stepping stone to power, a training center, a testing ground to prepare "alternation" in 2027, when Emmanuel Macron will have to leave the Elysée. The cardinal element of the last phase of the normalization of the party, the one which, according to the RN, will allow Marine Le Pen to exceed 50% of the votes for her fourth attempt at the presidential election.
The rest of the Hemicycle is already worried about it: the strategy of the RN in an Assembly devoid of an absolute majority is for the time being devilishly effective. “They are smart, admits the deputy (Les Républicains, LR) of the Territory of Belfort, Ian Boucard. They make a perfect start to a supposedly inexperienced group. »
The political class hoped that the low general level of the 89 deputies of the RN, novices for the most part, would push them into all the pitfalls of parliamentary and media life, and would recall the xenophobic nature of Lepenism. But after six months of legislature, everyone is forced to recognize it: if there were to be dissolution, “the big winner would be the National Rally”.
“Stay nice. Don’t take the melon…”
Monday June 20, 2022, a few hours after the second round of the legislative elections, at the headquarters of the RN, in the 16e arrondissement of Paris, it is still incredulity that dominates. Who, apart from a few inveterate optimists, could believe that the far-right party would win 89 constituencies, two months after the slap received in the second round of the presidential election?
On the big screen in the meeting room, Marine Le Pen (re-elected in Pas-de-Calais with 61% of the vote) faces a kaleidoscope of new faces. These are all representatives of France which heats itself with fuel oil, suffers from medical deserts and the rise in the price of diesel. There are activists from the Jean-Marie Le Pen era and right-wingers; two Kevins and one Marie-France; a delivery driver, a carer and five lawyers. Not everyone had planned to be there.
“We are not here to have a long parliamentary career. We are here to conquer power. By learning to be parliamentarians, we are at the same time creating a program and government teams. " Marine Le Pen
Facing the screen, Marine Le Pen, moved, makes the call and lays down some rules for living together: “Stay nice. Be good comrades. Don’t take the melon…” She insists on the tie for the men – “I had never worn one, even at my weddings! », laughs the deputy of Aude Christophe Barthès – and on the respect due to the staff of the Assembly. This, the ushers or the cleaning ladies have clearly noted: here is a very polite extreme right.
Two days later, the troupe, cornered by Marine Le Pen, discovered the Palais-Bourbon. The frontist rookies who have known the tracts on the sly and the collages under protection discover, all of a sudden, the deference of the Republic. “We immediately understood that we were going to have a lot of responsibilities, but, above all, a lot of resources, tells Jérôme Buisson, deputy of Ain, twenty years of party. Now, we can pay competent collaborators, read reports, attend conferences, interview big bosses… This will make us credible. »
The next day, in a hall of the Assembly, 88 pairs of ears listen to the directives of their future group president: “We are not here to have a long parliamentary career. We are here to conquer power. By learning to be parliamentarians, we are at the same time creating a program and government teams. “She would never have said it before,” vibrates Alexandra Masson, one of the executives of the group, who came from LR.
Marine Le Pen explains the voting strategy, in line with that of the RN in the regional councils: a "constructive opposition", guided by the " common sense ", "without ideology". The excesses of language and all that could contribute to "to caricature" the RN or to recall its xenophobic fundamentals are prohibited.
The original fault of the presidential majority
Did deputy José Gonzalez listen well? He wears handsome, this June 28, 2022, the 79-year-old activist, including forty-four National Front cards, short white beard and weathered face. Gripped by emotion, invited to open the inaugural session of the legislature as dean of the National Assembly, he delivered a speech nostalgic for French Algeria, reread and validated by Marine Le Pen. His longevity earned him a form of absolution. But at the exit of the Hemicycle, a journalist lays a trap and the pied-noir plunges like a penguin from the pack ice: “I am not here to judge whether the OAS has committed crimes or not. » Opposition exults. But the misstep will soon be forgotten. Because the next day negotiations begin for the posts of vice-president of the National Assembly allocated to six deputies.
This position is much more than honorary: it allows you to lead public meetings, to develop the agenda and, above all, to embody the face of the institution. After long hours of negotiations behind closed doors, the group presidents are moving towards a consensus: two vice-presidencies for the presidential coalition, two for the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (Nupes) and two for the RN.
But, very quickly, the negotiations are derailed on the distribution of the other positions at stake. In the absence of an overall agreement, the deputies are called upon to vote at the start of the afternoon. For Sébastien Chenu, tipped for the post of vice-president like his colleague Hélène Laporte, the case seems settled: the RN will be trapped by the coalition of other groups. Especially since Olivier Véran, then Minister Delegate in charge of Relations with Parliament, conveys the message within the majority not to slip an RN ballot. But the leaders of the Renaissance group, including its president, Aurore Bergé, give the opposite instruction: out of respect for the voters, the RN must be able to claim the positions that belong to it.
Just before the vote, Sébastien Chenu meets the deputy of Yvelines: “Your guys are not going to follow. They will not manage, psychologically, to put an RN ballot in the ballot box. » Response from Aurore Bergé: “I hold my group. » On entering the Hemicycle, Sébastien Chenu remembers the wink of a bailiff knowing the result: the double accession of the extreme right to the vice-presidency of the National Assembly is proclaimed, thanks to the contribution of the voices of the presidential coalition and of the right.
“It is the original fault of the majority”, judge Christine Pirès-Beaune, MP (socialist) for Puy-de-Dôme. “They put a ballot on which they wrote the names of two prominent members of the RN to become the fourth person in the state, adds the ecologist Sandra Regol (Bas-Rhin). What is not possible after that? »
Several Renaissance deputies do not hide their discomfort, like Rémy Rebeyrotte (Saône-et-Loire): “This matter is very serious. How can you explain to your voters that you voted for an FN vice-president? We were a number to say that it was a major fault. » Especially since for the vice-presidency, the RN has chosen a candidate who will know how to do it and to whom Yaël Braun-Pivet publicly praises.
Sébastien Chenu is a man of a pleasant trade, of which we do not really know what he thinks. He started in the Republican Party of Alain Madelin before continuing with the UMP and making the leap to the RN in 2015, with the sound of broken dishes. Marine Le Pen had presented it as a trophy. Since 2017, his first election on his name, he now holds a discourse with anti-globalization accents… This undoubtedly helps to speak to everyone and to feel at Bourbon, bistro annex of the National Assembly, as at home. He tightens fists there as in the countryside, particularly that of the opposing groups. In six months, his network has grown.
On the far right of the Hemicycle, Sébastien Chenu shares a double seat with Marine Le Pen. Behind her, she placed her favorites: her friend Laure Lavalette, her former press secretary, Caroline Parmentier, Jean-Philippe Tanguy, the rising man. In front, Philippe Ballard and Julie Lechanteux. Power, at the RN, is measured by physical proximity to the boss. The 88 colleagues of Marine Le Pen form a thick pack of which almost nothing filters through, as much by mistrust of the press as by esprit de corps, forged, we are told, by the countless electoral defeats.
The elusive against the rebellious
Frédéric Boccaletti has had his share: he has been an activist for three decades in the Var. This follower of the far-right writer Charles Maurras had a few hitches in his career: he chose to join Bruno Mégret in 1999 after his split with Jean-Marie Le Pen and was sentenced in 2000 to one year in prison six months firm for “violence in meetings with a weapon”. But he is one of those who understands the store best. “Our solidarity is our greatest strength, He explains. We have differences, but we take the same blows from the same opponents. The National Front was a family, which has its crises, its tensions, but does not display its differences in the press. We have what other parties lack: a head of the family, whom we respect. »
In the dead time of a parliamentary session, some slip between the narrow benches to come and have Marine Le Pen autograph stacks of photos for admirers in their constituency. It even happened to an LR deputy, who did not hesitate to confess: “My constituents adore you…”
“They can't catch us. We thought that the RN was going to behave as a protest party? Bad luck, sometimes we vote for. They expected us to scream all the time? Lack of pot, we are serious. » Kévin Mauvieux, MP for Eure
Blurring the divisions, pretending to de-ideologize the debates, voting with the deputies of the other parties: this so-called tactic "Constructive" is considered, by many elected officials, more intelligent and electorally profitable than that of the "rebellious", to whom they are constantly compared. “The RN is totally right in its strategy, says the socialist Philippe Brun, the only non-RN deputy from Eure. They understood that the French asked us for results, to negotiate. »
Flexible, fundamentally populist, sometimes incoherent, the party line is also intended "elusive", according to Renaud Labaye, the general secretary of the group. “Uncertainty can make our political adversaries more restless, He explains. The RN is the man covered in oil that we can't catch. » Its deputies have thus voted on government bills (on purchasing power this summer, or the orientation law of the Ministry of the Interior in December 2022), legislative proposals from the Renaissance such as the anti- squat, or even measures from the "rebellious" or LR.
Kévin Mauvieux, insurance agent in Eure, elected a few months after taking his party card, is amused: “They can't catch us. We thought that the RN was going to behave as a protest party? Bad luck, sometimes we vote for. They expected us to scream all the time? Lack of pot, we are serious. » Without knowing it, the young thirty-something is paraphrasing a certain Jean-Marie Le Pen, who declared in 1986 when he arrived at the Assembly with a group of thirty-five deputies: “We expect deputies with shaved heads. We will discover thoughtful and resolute elected officials. We expect fighters. We're going to see a responsible group that has nothing to do with a bunch of holy-rollers. At the time, the former Poujadist theorized the “freedom to vote piecemeal, to support or not support the government”.
Neighborhood relations between LR and RN
On xenophobic obsessions, Marine Le Pen's RN also follows in the footsteps of her father's FN. It was a member of the Var, Julie Lechanteux, who declared in committee, during a debate on immigrants: “Humanity, for me, is to defend the French. » It is this proposal, aimed at establishing a “constitutional regime applicable to foreigners”, in order to limit their rights and freedoms, such as the expression of opinions and access to work and to solidarity benefits. It is this desire to register a wave "safeguarding the identity of France" in the Constitution. It is this amendment which would make it possible to remove all the family conditions which, today, make it impossible to deport a foreigner. And it is, of course, the national preference, which the RN tries to integrate into many texts. The parliamentary counterpart to the repeated winks of Jordan Bardella, new party president, on the far right of identity, worried about a fantastic "great replacement".
"We don't talk to them, we don't say hello to them. When we meet them, we settle down, we look at each other very badly. Alma Dufour, LFI deputy.
In July 2022, the environmental deputies had been clear: out of the question to have offices on the same floor as their colleagues from the RN. In September, Nupes refused to play football with the extreme right, followed in this by Renaissance. "We don't talk to them, we don't say hello to them. When we meet them, we settle down, we look at each other very badly, ” describes the "rebellious" Alma Dufour (Seine-Maritime).
The ecologist and “rebellious” deputies are considered the most intransigent. The Communists, little suspected of collusion with the far right, have rather decreed that five years without a hello would be a long time. The RN Roger Chudeau (Loir-et-Cher), a former senior official of the Ministry of National Education, claims to have laughed with André Chassaigne (Puy-de-Dôme), the most famous mustache of the Assembly and the French Communist Party: “An extremely friendly man. He said to me: “Why are you at the FN, you?” I replied: “Why are you coco?” »
In the Hemicycle, a simple corridor separates the LR and RN deputies. Across this porous border, we discuss, laugh, sometimes quarrel. Right-wing parliamentarians refute any ideological proximity and see it as discussions "banal" with their counterparts.
The elected representatives of the extreme right play happily with this neighborhood. “We work them on the body, especially those next to us, laughs Kevin Mauvieux. Sometimes it's: "Go, go if two of you raise your hands it passes!" » For now, the dike holds. Barring exceptions, RN amendments are always rejected, sometimes for spurious reasons. In six months, only fifty of them have been adopted, in particular requests for reports or texts copied from LR. In reality, the legislative influence of the RN boils down to adopting amendments from elsewhere.
The RN at the center of the game
They are five, every Tuesday morning, facing the deputies of the group. Renaud Labaye, Marine Le Pen, Jordan Bardella, president of the RN, Sébastien Chenu and Jean-Philippe Tanguy, deputy president of the group. Seated in front of a long desk, under the neon lights of an impersonal room in the National Assembly, they set out the strategy for the coming week, distribute the elements of language and questions to the government. Microphone stands are placed everywhere between the chairs, but, according to several deputies, the debates are rare.
“These meetings are a bit too mass, regrets Bruno Bilde, a group executive, dismissed from the party leadership in November 2022 by Jordan Bardella. There is a fear of stepping out of line among new MPs. There is still too much verticality. » The deputy (RN) of Ain Jérôme Buisson nuances: “There is no lead screed. Each deputy has his freedom of speech, even if it is not necessary to enter into dissidence. “The caption saying that we are not allowed to open it is false, indignant Christophe Barthès, a loudmouth, farmer in the Aude. Some are more expressive than others, who don't dare; in this case, I raise my hand for them! »
Tuesday, October 18, Bruno Bilde raised his hand. The MP for Pas-de-Calais is one of those closest to Marine Le Pen. With Steeve Briois, he paved the way for it to set up in Hénin-Beaumont. That day, it is about the future motion of censure which will be tabled by the Nupes after the first of ten 49.3 triggered by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. Marine Le Pen is leaning towards not voting for it; Bruno Bilde objects, publicly: " Warning ! The anti-Macronism in our electorate is such that I am not sure our electors understand that we are not trying to overthrow the government, even if it is very hypothetical. » Others join him.
Marine Le Pen notes and postpones her decision until the following week. Charge to the deputies to sound out their constituency. Until then, the RN will play with the nerves of its opponents and journalists. Hence the amazement that invaded the benches of the Hemicycle on October 24, when the MP for Pas-de-Calais announced, "in the general interest", support the motion of censure tabled by the Nupes. The government is not overthrown – the motion not having obtained the necessary 289 votes – but the essential is elsewhere: the RN has placed itself at the center of the game.
In the process, the presidential coalition denounced a “collusion of extremes”. The "rebellious", embarrassed at the corners, find it difficult to reply. On the side of ecologists, socialists and communists, the malaise is obvious. "We must be very careful, in the future, that our texts do not give the impression of appealing to the far right", warns the deputy (ecologist) of Yvelines Benjamin Lucas. “We will never build a majority with the National Rally”, adds the president of the socialist group, Boris Vallaud, as if he needed to be reminded.
With this billiard move, Marine Le Pen has, moreover, relegated the 62 LR deputies to the role of crutch for the government of Elisabeth Borne. The strike is perfect. “This decision is the pivot of the first six months, it marked people, assures Thibault François, deputy (RN) of the North. The firepower of this vote is increased tenfold by the fact that the group has kept it a secret. »
The guard of RN deputies
Secrets, the RN loves it. The rare leaks make a party jump which, by tradition, advances like a Roman tortoise. In October, some made the mistake of leaking, in Le Figaro, the return of “Traditional Catholics” in the party, like a slingshot start. The article seriously annoyed internally, especially Renaud Labaye, who, with good reason, felt targeted. To the group, he asked: “Who thinks we're too conservative? » No one raised their hand.
Arrived five years ago alongside Marine Le Pen, and adorned by her with all the virtues, this “Versailles bourgeois” was propelled general secretary of the group, an organizational and strategic role. With him, the chef thinks she has found a pillar, and too bad if he is a regular on the Chartres pilgrimage. Serious without being sinister, machine-gun delivery and courteous manners, this fervent Catholic trained in Saint-Cyr, flunked from the ENA and unhappy at Bercy, imposed his cardboard sleeves and his methods on the group.
Around him, he chose collaborators whose pedigree contrasts strangely with the electorate of the party. Two of them claim a traditionalist Catholic worship. To those who were worried, Sébastien Chenu answered in a meeting: “Yes, Renaud offers us guys who have brooms up their ass and live in Versailles! So what ? »
"If Labaye is there to enter, it's a failure, notes the deputy president of the RN group Jean-Philippe Tanguy with a hint of compassion. He does a lot of work for the general interest but wins few arbitrations. It swallows a lot of snakes, as on the constitutionalization of voluntary termination of pregnancy. On this subject, the RN deputies had the freedom to vote, 38 out of the 89 voted, on November 24, for this proposal by the LFI deputies.
For now, the energetic secretary general is mainly about discipline. You have to see him browsing at the foot of the Hemicycle, back to the wall, pockets in one hand, phone in the other to, if necessary, send the voting instructions in the group's common WhatsApp. Some have sometimes strongly criticized Renaud Labaye for a guard side. The former soldier does not hide a little authoritarian inclination, essential given the size of the group. Marine Le Pen has demanded it: being present in the Assembly means respecting the voters and being able to sway votes. One night during the budget review, at 1:30 a.m. on the clock, she leaves the Chamber furiously to fetch the twenty or so missing deputies. Since then, not a deputy has failed to let it be known that the RN is the most diligent in session.
Three words that could have ruined everything
This November 3, 2022, Renaud Labaye is in the office that he then shares with Marine Le Pen, during the session of questions to the government. The television is on, without sound, the bustle catches his eye. The camera insistently shows the benches of the RN, then the inscription “Suspension of sitting” appears. The secretary general foresees the slippage. D’"a cry from the heart", as he will say later, the deputy (RN) of Gironde, Grégoire de Fournas, has just shouted "Let him return to Africa!" » Is he talking about the humanitarian boat Ocean Viking mentioned at this time in the Hemicycle, or of the "rebellious" black deputy of Val-d'Oise, Carlos Martens Bilongo, who had the floor?
In the tumult of the Assembly, the deputy (RN) of the Somme Jean-Philippe Tanguy rushes towards his colleague, planted in front of his computer, and “makes him swear on his children that he was talking about the boat”. For all the other groups who were sorely lacking an angle of attack on this confusing RN, this is an opportunity to hit hard, and quickly. “In three words, he ruined four months of substantive work,” jubilant Eric Pauget (LR, Alpes-Maritimes).
Absent from the debates, Marine Le Pen, reframes severely from Fournas. Is it in good faith? She thinks so. She claims to have discovered, at the same time as the press, her racist tweets published for years. Other Lepenist deputies are annoyed by the blunder committed by their colleague, when they apply themselves to disguising the deep springs of their political identity. “De Fournas is a turning point. It's our first fault." annoys a relative of the president of the group.
Behind closed doors in a small room in the Palais-Bourbon, where the Assembly's pundits must decide on the fate of the winegrower, Marine Le Pen decides: “It wasn't very fine. I'm smarter than him. » Then leaves the room before the vote, to criticize in front of the journalists a "procedure where [his group] is judged by [his] political adversaries. The office will reproach Grégoire de Fournas for a "demonstration disturbing the order or which causes a tumultuous scene", synonym of fifteen days of exclusion. “This case sent shivers down our spines. It could have ruined everything. If it happens again, it won't work." says Sébastien Chenu today.
Language gaps are the party's Achilles' heel. Even Jean-Philippe Tanguy was criticized by "the reasonable of the group" are “Silence for France! ». A cry of annoyance with regard to the benches of the Nupes, pronounced in July at the rostrum of the Assembly, which has been around the Internet and news channels three times continuously. “I was told that it was not serious”, he says today. Since then, seriousness has been embodied by him in the eyes of his comrades. In economic and energy debates, he has vilified France's industrial choices since General de Gaulle.
Handling all registers, from the technical to the tragicomic, with an assumed lisp, the young deputy from the Somme also stands out as the favorite of Marine Le Pen. “He is the one who helps her in this new life, analyzes Bruno Bilde. He has a good student side. If he wasn't there, we would be in an uncomfortable situation, because he responds very well. With us, he is above the rest. » Which, in hollow, indicates that few deputies have emerged in six months.
Beyond the Le Pen-Tanguy-Chenu triumvirate, the names of Laure Lavalette, Kévin Mauvieux or Pierre Meurin are cited as good profiles. But those who are trained to deliver elements of language on the sets of continuous news channels are less daring in the Hemicycle. The tenors are even beginning to find their adaptation time a bit long. “There are some that we haven't seen enough of. In the Hemicycle, you need a capacity for rebound and improvisation”, deplores Sébastien Chenu.
“The level of the group is very low, it is based on only three or four executive deputies. The rest simply repeat what they have been asked to say and read scripted speeches. » Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, Renaissance MP
This difficulty in expressing oneself publicly in the Hemicycle is also perceptible in committee, where the texts are examined and amended before their presentation in public session. The debates are often technical, even arid, for relatively weak political gains. "Barbless", slips even Laure Lavalette, referent of the RN group to the commission of social affairs.
"We don't have the ease of our colleagues, it lacks spontaneity, admits the deputy of Loir-et-Cher, Roger Chudeau. When I see my LR colleagues jumping on the microphone at any point, I tell myself that we will come to it. » Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, President (Renaissance) of the European Affairs Committee, confirms: “The level of the group is very low, it is based on only three or four executive deputies. The rest simply repeat what they have been asked to say and read scripted speeches. »
Will they be ready, on January 12, for their parliamentary niche, the monthly session reserved for opposition groups? That day, until midnight, the far-right group will have their hands on the agenda of the sessions. A first in the history of the party.
The menu of debates chosen by Marine Le Pen is a reflection of these first six months of the RN in the National Assembly. The themes chosen are less markers of the party than traps for other groups: some measures of its program which could seduce LR; a consensual text on assistance to victims of domestic violence, already adopted unanimously in the Senate.
Above all, the RN wants to resume as is the LFI bill on the reintegration of caregivers not vaccinated with Covid-19. The examination of this text could not succeed, victim of the parliamentary obstruction of the government. The pole is launched.
At first, the LFI rapporteur for the text, Caroline Fiat, accepted this speaking time offered by the far right. “When the RN sets a trap, the best thing is not to jump into it with both feet”, then stings the first secretary of the PS, Olivier Faure. Faced with the bronca of its Nupes partners, LFI finally backed down and announced the withdrawal of its text. The RN will ultimately not be able to put it on its agenda on January 12. As for the one on victims of domestic violence, it was scheduled for the week of January 16. Here is the RN forced to cut back. Inside the walls of the Palais-Bourbon, the sanitary cordon still holds.