The French Front National: Organizational Change and Adaptation from Jean-Marie to Marine Le Pen - HAL-SHS - Sciences de l'Homme et de la Société Access content directly
Book Sections Year : 2016

The French Front National: Organizational Change and Adaptation from Jean-Marie to Marine Le Pen

Gilles Ivaldi
Maria Elisabetta Lanzone,
  • Function : Author


The Front national (FN) has established itself as a major force in French politics since the mid-1980s. The French FN epitomizes the mobilization strategy of the West European populist radical right, which combines ethno-nationalist xenophobia with anti-establishment populism. This potent ideological frame has allowed the party to win between 10 and 18% across all national elections since 1984. The electoral consolidation of the FN has been accompanied by the progressive building of an effective nationwide organization and by the development of the party’s local base of power. In line with the literature on party organization (e.g. Janda 1980, Katz and Mair 1993, 1994, Harmel and Svâsand 1993, Harmel et al. 1995), this chapter disaggregates the FN’s organization into several dimensions and looks at how the party has adapted to changing political circumstances over time. We consider aspects of party institutionalization and organization, as well as the FN’s governmental status, centralization of power and coherence. The focus is primarily on the agenda of modernization pushed by Marine Le Pen since her accession in 2011. Our analysis suggests generational turnover among party elites and candidates, with the rise of a younger cohort of national leaders. We also find an embryonic process of professionalization amongst the party’s grassroots, together with the reinvigoration of its pool of local representatives, which has recently allowed the party to expand its local power base. Finally, we find that the FN has severed its ties with extreme-right groups, and that the 2011 leadership election represented a first notable step towards greater intra party democracy. Despite significant changes, however, we find no evidence of a more substantial move towards party ‘normalization’, neither ideologically nor organizationally. Our analysis points to the continuation of Le Pen’s familial model of autocratic leadership and the persistence of a highly centralized hierarchical party organization. We conclude that the FN has not broken away from the traditional populist party. Reflecting on recent changes in the internal balance of power, our analysis suggests instead that the FN has undergone a process of ‘Marinization’ whereby Marine Le Pen has successfully replaced her father as the new iconic leader of the French radical right.

Dates and versions

halshs-01385763 , version 1 (22-10-2016)



Gilles Ivaldi, Maria Elisabetta Lanzone,. The French Front National: Organizational Change and Adaptation from Jean-Marie to Marine Le Pen. Reinhard Heinisch, Oscar Mazzoleni. Understanding Populist Party Organisation. The Radical Right in Western Europe, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp.131-158, 2016, Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology, 978-1-137-58196-9. ⟨10.1057/978-1-137-58197-6⟩. ⟨halshs-01385763⟩
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