France's Greens leader takes to front line against far right

Marine Tondelier hails from former mining town of Henin-Beaumont, which has had a far-right RN mayor since 2014 (Zakaria ABDELKAFI)
Marine Tondelier hails from former mining town of Henin-Beaumont, which has had a far-right RN mayor since 2014 (Zakaria ABDELKAFI)

A young Greens politician who cut her teeth in a far-right fiefdom has emerged as a leading voice against anti-immigration forces in the final stretch of France's snap polls.

After President Emmanuel Macron called parliamentary polls last month, Greens party leader Marine Tondelier, 37, was quick to rebound from poor results in EU Parliament elections to form a front against the far right by allying with other left-wing parties.

Since the far-right National Rally (RN) won the first round on June 30, she has defended siding with Macron's centrist forces to win remaining seats from the anti-immigration and eurosceptic party at the end of the week.

Never without her trademark green jacket, she has hopped from one television show to the next in recent days, warning about the alleged dangers of the party of three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

On Thursday morning, she even appeared on the right-wing CNews channel, urging viewers to prevent the RN from gaining an absolute majority and Le Pen's 28-year-old protege Jordan Bardella from becoming premier.

"I want to be able to say I tried everything because each vote will count and maybe... some people will change their mind," she said.

"We need all the votes we can get on Sunday to stop Jordan Bardella from becoming prime minister."

- 'On the offensive' -

Bardella, the young telegenic president of the RN, has taken part in debates with two other leading men in the left-wing alliance, but has avoided one including Tondelier.

"He seems scared to debate me," she told BFM television on Wednesday, just before its journalists conducted a separate interview with Bardella.

Her party has suggested the reason is that she knows the RN's methods too well.

Elected Greens leader in late 2022, Tondelier grew up in the northern former mining town of Henin-Beaumont, which has had an RN mayor since 2014.

For the past decade Tondelier has been a member of the local opposition in the district known as the fiefdom of "the other Marine", presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen.

She ran against Le Pen several times including in the 2022 parliamentary elections, though unsuccessfully.

Refusing to desert the district where she has maintained residency, and where her parents and grandparents live, she was number two to the left-wing alliance candidate who lost Sunday's vote to Le Pen.

Tondelier has also since 2021 been a regional councillor for the wider Hauts-de-France region.

Socialist senator Alexandre Ouizille, who hails from the same region, said he was not surprised to see Tondelier at the forefront of the battle for parliament.

"It's who Marine Tondelier is to always be on the front line against the far right," he said. "I've always seen her on the offensive."

- 'Miracle survivor' -

Macron took a gamble by dissolving parliament just weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics, after the RN trounced his centrist alliance in the EU Parliament elections in June, winning more than double its score of 14 percent.

The Greens list notched up a dismal five percent in the European vote, which some within the party blamed on Tondelier for refusing to ally with other leftists.

But criticism has dissolved as Tondelier has risen to the challenge of the French vote.

Greens MEP David Cormand said Tondelier was one of those politicians "who in a crisis are able to up their game".

A member of the hard-left France Unbowed party, who asked to remain anonymous, cynically described Tondelier as a "miracle survivor".

"She should have been out after what happened in the European polls," the person said. "She can say thank you to Macron."