French far-right party to fund policies by cutting aid to foreigners

By Sarah Elzas - RFI
Europe © Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
© Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The far-right, anti-immigration National Rally on Monday published its policy priorities ahead of this weekend's first round of snap legislative elections. Leader Jordan Bardella has promised to restore order in France, curb immigration and address the cost-of-living crisis.

"In three words: we are ready," the 28-year-old president of the National Rally (RN) told a press conference as he unveiled his party's programme on Monday.

Bardella has promised to boost France's purchasing power, bring back authority to schools and change the law to make it easier to deport foreigners convicted of crimes.

He reiterated plans to tighten borders and make it harder for foreigners born on French soil to gain citizenship.

He also reiterated statements he made last week that he would table a bill to lower VAT on energy from 20 percent to 5.5 percent immediately upon taking office, and renegotiate French energy costs with the European Union.

Recent polls suggest Bardella will come out ahead in Sunday's legislative elections – and possibly become Prime Minister.

'National priority'

The party's platform, published on its website Monday, said employers would be allowed to raise salaries by ten percent without paying social charges for five years.

Bardella said the programme is “calculated and reasonable”, but he did not give specific numbers, insisting that the €12 billion budget deficit created by cutting the VAT would be covered by closing tax loopholes and cutting social benefits to foreigners.

A cornerstone of the RN's policy is the idea of “national priority” for social benefits, reserving them only for French people.

“Reducing social spending through putting in place national priority,” is one of the points in the party's detailed programme.

“It's not a redistribution from the richer to the poorer via tax increases or via state policy in the economy,” explains Romeric Godin, an economic reporter for the investigative website Mediapart; referring to the RN's economic proposals, which are sometimes characterised as leftist, because they are redistributive in nature.

“They redistribute through 'national preference', which is a redistribution along ethnic and national criteria, which is a discriminatory policy.”

This policy, he says, probably would not hold up under France's current legal framework, but the RN says it would implement it “if necessary by a constitutional referendum”.

More from Romeric Godin and others imagining a far-right government in France, in the Spotlight on France podcast

But redistributing social charges paid to foreigners will not cover the budget deficits facing France or create growth, any more than the current government policies, Godin points out.

He sees an RN-run economy as one of austerity, much as what is being imposed by the current government, with the difference being that “the austerity will be harder for the foreigners, for the migrants, and not for the French.”

“This kind of redistribution of ethnic and national redistribution is a very attractive for some people that think that it is a solution to their problem,” he said. “And that's a great success of the National Rally to make people think that, in fact, the make foreigners poorer will make them richer.”

Buying time with an audit

Much of the spending proposals put forward by Bardella and the RN are predicated on an audit of the country's finances that he said he would undertake as of July, which would determine what can (and cannot) be done.

“That's a traditional way to say that 'We can't implement some promises we made before, because public finance are not in order',” says Godin, sceptical that the RN will be able to make good on its promises.

The party, which during former leader Marine Le Pen's 2022 presidential campaign addressed more social issues in the past, is setting itself up to backtrack if it can.

It already has done so with pensions, promising before 2022 that it would roll back the retirement age to 60.

Bardella's ambitions are smaller, promising to revise Macron's pension reform, and allowing those who have paid into the system for 40 years to retire as young as 62.

This is an issue that will be addressed later in the year, according to the party platform, and for Godin, the economic audit offers a way out: “They can say that if the report on France's public finances are very bad, they will not do it in the autumn, or at all.”

Imagining a far-right government in France, in the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 113, listen here.

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024