In CovertAction Magazine’s prior Paris Dispatch titled “Linking the Right and Far Right: Marion Maréchal’s Plan for France” (dated April 12, 2020), we explained that the “union of the rights” project was a political venture aimed at blurring the barriers between the right and far right. This creates, instead, a French version of “national conservatism,” presented as the only political alternative to the current austerity, immigration, and other policies. We identified the main actors who give voice to this project, namely Marion Maréchal, the niece of the leader of the Rassemblement National, and some of her friends situated both on the right and far-right.
But if this group is the most visible, it is only because they are the tip of the iceberg. Our goal in this second dispatch is to show the bigger picture, that is, to explain the role of the Maréchal & Co. group in the whole framework of this political project.
One has to visualize a new political venture as if it were a new product being introduced into the marketplace, i.e., as a new supply trying to match what is perceived as an opportunity to fill a hole in the demand, a niche to be exploited. The opportunity here is a redistribution of the political forces on the chessboard, the ever-growing market-friendly “center” pushing the traditional left and right off the board. We mentioned in part 1 the liberal-conservative Les Républicains (LR)’s sinking ship since the 2019 European elections, but the same can be said of the Parti Socialiste (PS), essentially non-existent since its historically low score in the 2017 presidential elections.
What put the whole “union of the rights” machine into motion was this opportunity, or better yet, the perception of this opportunity by several individuals, having the same aha! moment while daydreaming in the shower. As such, it has a vaporous existence: It is not a project carried out covertly by one person, group or even lobby, but the shared realization that the current condition is favorable for the attainment of a goal, that of enlarging one’s voter base and ultimately increasing one’s own power. Thus, the question was, how to act on it, i.e., how to give corporeality to a fleeting sense of opportunity unfolding in the back of one’s mind?
The first step is to emphasize these favorable circumstances and the niche to be exploited to the right investors. This is the goal of what we’ll call the “networking bureau,” described in part 1. The ultimate goal of the bureau is to organize networking events to meet potential collaborators and facilitate the meeting of individuals who would not have the opportunity to mingle but for this dedicated environment. This was the goal of the dinner organized between Marion Maréchal, who belongs in the far-right circles, and members of the more classical right-wing Les Républicains party organized by Jacques de Guillebon and Erik Tégner on June 25, 2019. Another example of these networking events is the “right-wing convention” organized by the same Erik Tégner and another member of the bureau, François de Voyer, on September 28, 2019. The goal of the bureau, one will have gathered, is to become a sort of chamber of commerce, acting as a spokesman for the “union of the rights” community and translating the group thinking of its members into action.
Now that the hole in the demand has been identified, step two is to create the supply that will fill it. This new and groundbreaking product has been coined by the French media “l’union des droites” (union of the rights), a project aimed at putting the right and far right in the same basket—a basket sometimes also called “national conservatism”—meant to be the new face of the political opposition. Except it is not new at all, and it actually was invented more than a decade ago by Patrick Buisson. While his name may not ring a bell, the name of the man who he worked for will: Buisson was the main adviser of Nicolas Sarkozy for his 2007 and 2012 presidential campaigns. And Buisson was the perfect candidate to stitch together right and far-right as he, too, was navigating in midwater. Indeed, before being approached by Sarkozy in 2005, the man had already made a name for himself in far-right circles, notably by his managing positions in two major far-right newspapers: Minute, where he had worked since 1981 and directed in 1986 and 1987; and Valeurs actuelles, which he joined in 1987 and was appointed managing editor of from 1992 to 1998.
The “union of the rights” project he offered Sarkozy was of a slightly different kind, although it followed the same logic of reaching out to the voters of the Front National. The unspoken pact to the voters was as follows: Since Jean-Marie Le Pen has no chance of actually being elected, they should vote for Nicolas Sarkozy, who will put the same ideas into practice. Hence the themes that could be found in his campaign speeches, playing on the equation between insecurity and immigration, and on the opposition between the hard-working people who rise early and the lazy who indulge in unemployment, i.e., the feeling of superiority over “others” and the fear of the dangers represented by those “others.”
But what Buisson found there, besides a whole new pool of voters untouched by the right because of the praised “cordon sanitaire,” was a rhetoric. That rhetoric said, I’m not a racist, I don’t have a reputation of torturing Algerians during the war, but I still indulge in alterophobia to explain the demise of the workers in the capitalist age, and that’s OK.
Similarly to when Marine Le Pen talks about secularism, she actually has Muslims in her sights, when Sarkozy talked about communitarianism, it is those feelings against “others” that he is trying to stir up among voters who might hesitate between him and his rival of the Front National. But in order to avoid being called a racist and to keep centrist votes, he covers up the bigoted undertones with a hymn to the values of openness and solidarity, by saying “I want to be the one who will refuse in France any communitarian drift. I want to be the President who will tell the French people that the Republic does not belong to the past, that it is our future because it is the name we give to the desire to live together. I have learned how generous and welcoming the people of France are […] I have never seen you tempted by selfishness, by seclusion, by the rejection of others.” To all those for whom the reference to communitarianism is a “politically correct” means of expressing hostility towards immigrants, it thus grants a certificate of good conduct and conformity to the values of humanism.
The goal of Buisson here is to create a rhetoric that gives this political opportunity body, that anchors it into narrative, a tale that makes sense, that induces the sense that this is a solution to a problem we did not even know we had. The goal of this step two is to give a “mere” strategic move toward an electoral opportunity a justification, a doctrine, a set of beliefs that gives it a meaning beyond its opportunism. For that purpose, Buisson created a compelling narrative by hijacking the “appeal to the people against the elites” usually used by the left and turned it into an identitarian concept. Indeed, the “elites” he is urging people to rally against is not the capitalist status quo, but rather a “cultural” elite, the cultural domination of “left values,” defined notably by multiculturalism and the defense of the welfare state. On the contrary, Buisson’s narrative advocates nationalism, defined in opposition to “uprootedness”—here again the term nationalism is driven away from its original sense (that of economic protectionism) and meant as a “nationalist cultural model,” i.e., centered around the Christian, traditional (and implicitly racial) roots of the French identity. Through this clever shell game, Buisson manages to bring together in one rational-looking narrative two opposite tendencies: the defense of the “French identity” dear to the far right, while at the same time continuing to defend the free-market matrix, necessary to keep the liberal-conservative label.
If the days of Sarkozy are over, Buisson’s are not: He just found a new horse to bet on. He was notably spotted having dinner with Marion Maréchal on March 21, 2018, just weeks after her participation at the CPAC conference just outside of Washington, D.C., on February 22, 2018, i.e., just weeks after she relaunched her political career since her retirement in 2017. And the feelings of interest seem to be mutual: In her “political testament”—an interview she gave to the far-right newspaper Valeurs Actuelles in May 2017, after she announced her retirement from political life—Marion Maréchal evokes “the alliance of the conservative bourgeoisie and the working classes,” stressing that “the traditional right and the working classes have a common concern, that of their identity. Based on this observation, we can imagine bridges to bring them together and provide common answers.” It sounds like something Buisson could write. And as a matter of fact, in the same interview she states: “J’appartiens à la droite Buisson” (I belong to Buisson’s right wing).
And this horse might just be worth being back on the offensive, even 13 years after it was so useful to Sarkozy: beyond LR’s monumental defeat at the European elections in 2019, which has durably excluded the party from viable electoral options, another element must be taken into account. His name is Laurent Wauquiez, the president of Les Républicains (LR) from 2017 to 2019. Indeed, he too had decided to occupy the ground of the right, and thus represented until last year an adversary for Marion Maréchal. But he was pushed out after the LR failure at the 2019 European elections, and the party decided to make a 180-degree turn by appointing in his place the “Macron-compatible” Christian Jacob in October 2019, thus leaving Marion Maréchal unencumbered. This new management also involved a symbolic decision: The new LR president decided to exclude members who, like Wauquiez, were leaning decidedly too close to the extremes, and among them Erik Tegnér, one of the members of the Maréchal & Co. group.
But besides being an authority figure for the Les Républicains members tempted by this “union,” and a mentor to Marion Maréchal, Buisson also recently embarked on the adventure with a politico-cultural foundation “to work towards the union of conservatives and populists.” Called “La cause” (the cause), this organization is the consecration of exchanges between Patrick Buisson, far-right media superstar Eric Zemmour and associates of Monsignor Rey, the traditionalist bishop of Toulon-Fréjus. Charles de Meyer, the president of the association SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, also took part in the discussions. These names suggest that a Christian identity will be at the heart of this foundation. Patrick Buisson also plans to organize a “forum” entitled “2022: The People versus Macron” to be held in late May or early June 2020. Designed in the manner of the “right-wing convention” organized by the Maréchal & Co. group, the aim of this forum is “to study the new canonical cleavage between progressivism and populism, which is the key to understanding the debate today.”
 National conservatism is a political brand (not being a solid ideology) created to promote a sort of “Trumpism without Trump,” i.e., trying to find in Trumpist nationalism “a kernel of coherent ideology that can outlast the Trump presidency.” See: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/02/opinion/national-conservatives-republicans-trump.html
 The “right wing” in this chart includes Jacques Chirac’s RPR party (1976-2002), Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party (2002-2015), and the Les Républicains party (2015-today).
 For a complete biography, including his upbringing in a royalist family and his academic work on the OAS terrorists, see: https://www.nouvelobs.com/politique/election-presidentielle-2012/20120216.OBS1600/patrick-buisson-le-stratege-de-l-ombre.html and https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/Cinq-choses-a-savoir-sur-Patrick-Buisson-655821
 Terra Nova, Projet 2012 – Contribution n°31, L’axe UMPFN : Vers le parti patriote ?, p.20 http://tnova.fr/system/contents/files/000/000/830/original/L%27axe_UMPFN_vers_le_parti_patriote_-_Terra_Nova.pdf?1436950462
 The “cordon sanitaire” (sanitary cordon) is a Belgian political practice introduced at the initiative of Flemish environmentalist leader Jos Geysels, aimed at excluding extreme right-wing political parties from any political majority. The term is also used to describe similar situations in other countries, where rival parties come together against parties that threaten the liberal, usually far-right, order. For more information, see: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/henri-goldman/blog/271219/belgique-les-aventures-du-cordon-sanitaire
 A report dated April 1, 1957, refers to a complaint of torture filed against Lieutenant Jean-Marie Le Pen, concerning his military activities during the Algerian war
 Terra Nova, Projet 2012 – Contribution n°31, L’axe UMPFN : Vers le parti patriote? p. 21.
 After speaking for fewer than ten minutes at the CPAC conference, Marion Maréchal was all over the news, e.g., within a month after the conference, one of the biggest right-wing newspapers in France, Le Figaro, devoted two full pages to a profile of her : https://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2018/03/30/01002-20180330ARTFIG00278-l-influence-toujours-bien-presente-de-marion-marechal-le-pen-au-fn.php
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About the Author
About the Author
Masha P. Davis is a Ph.D. student working on the French and European Far Right in Paris, France.