For years, French media has speculated on “Les Horaces,” a secret group of state officials who hope to join a far-right government. With Marine Le Pen’s party heading polls for the parliamentary elections, their plans look closer to reality than ever.

Marine Le Pen on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France. (Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images)

For nearly a decade there have been whispers of a secret group in French politics called the “Horaces.” Expecting that Marine Le Pen will one day become president, this circle of influential senior government officials and business leaders have been assiduously preparing for her first hundred days in power.

According to a report from Le Point, they numbered around eighty people in 2016, and included judges and teachers, members of the military bureaucracy, lawyers and CEOs, as well as functionaries in government ministries and higher education. By 2017, a report in Marianne put their number at 155, though a 2024 investigation in Libération narrowed the circle back down to an efficient twenty-eight. These men reportedly dine with Le Pen, draft her program and speeches, and author her campaign initiatives and about-faces (it was this group, according to an Agence France-Presse report, that urged Le Pen to step away from the aspects of her program that have sometimes feigned a defense of France’s social welfare system).

They’ve also plotted attacks on Le Pen’s opponents, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, drafting messaging in 2017 in case the left-wing presidential candidate forced a runoff between himself and Le Pen instead of Emmanuel Macron.

Now, after the Rassemblement National (RN)’s crushing performance in the European elections, and the political thunderbolt of Macron’s announcement of snap elections, Le Pen truly is closer to power than ever. This is not just a campaign slogan, but a widely understood reality. Éric Ciotti, the leader of the mainstream right-wing party Les Républicains, announced on Tuesday afternoon that he was prepared to forge an alliance with Le Pen, snapping the thin film between respectable Gaullism and the far right (in reality, this film has been porous for year). Les Républicains quickly splintered, with the party’s political bureau voting to strip Ciotti of the presidency. Still, Ciotti was backed by the leader of Les Républicains’ youth wing, and according to one poll over 50 percent of their voters support such a right-wing alliance with Le Pen.

The shockwave of Macron’s dissolution of parliament and the political opportunities that it has opened up has prompted figures like Ciotti to openly proclaim what they really think — and pushed forward the schedule for a Rassemblement National government that now feels all but inevitable. It’s ten minutes to midnight for those who want to stop Le Pen. But even before this political earthquake, way back in the now-distant campaign for Sunday’s European elections, senior officials with profiles that matched the foggy outlines of the Horaces were stepping out of the shadows to contest for power openly. With Le Pen’s dominant performance over the weekend, some of those senior officials are now members of the European Parliament (MEPs), charged with making policy in a much more direct way than ever before.

There was the former head of the EU’s border agency Fabrice Leggeri, number three on the Rassemblement National list and Thierry Mariani, a longtime member of the mainstream right-wing party Les Républicains, minister of transport from 2010 to 2012, and number nine on the list. They were both easily elected. There’s also a criminal magistrate, Pascale Piera, a high-ranking representative of France’s justice system and elected from position number ten. Twenty-fifth on the list — but still comfortably elected — is Pierre Pimpie, deputy director of the body charged with securing the nation’s railways.

During a debate in the run-up to the election, Macron’s young prime minister, Gabriel Attal, tried to portray Le Pen’s Rassemblement National as an ill-prepared, flighty outfit led by politicians ready to say anything and change any opinion to get power. But outside of empty politicking, Attal underestimates just how ready this party is to govern, just how long it’s been preparing to take power, and who’s ready to join it on its road to the top.

The Horaces

When Hossam Boutros Messiha came to France from Egypt he was eight years old and didn’t speak a word of French. The son of an Egyptian diplomat, when he turned twenty he became a naturalized citizen of France and changed his name to Jean. “I’m assimilated,” Messiha told the newspaper Libération in 2017. “Arab on the outside, French on the inside.”

Messiha was educated at the prestigious École nationale d’administration (ENA) and in 2005 became a project manager for the Army’s chief of staff. His career didn’t attract much public attention, but he marched steadily up the ranks of the civil service within the Ministry of Defense.

In 2014, by Messiha’s account, he sent an email to the Rassemblement National and met Le Pen the same year. They were interested in him, and later on would refer to him, with his impeccable educational background and career as a functionary, as a prize.

In an interview with the reactionary journal Valeurs actuelles earlier this year, Messiha claimed that joining Le Pen’s party in 2015 cost him his civil service career. But the same year he met Le Pen, he also became an assistant to the ministry’s deputy director of operational management. He remained trusted enough in that position that in 2016 the minister of defense gave him the formal authority to sign all “acts, orders, and decisions” in the minister’s name for the division, according to an announcement in the government’s official gazette.

And according to an investigation by Mediapart last year, Messiha’s civil service career didn’t end when he joined RN at all. Nor did it end when he left that party in 2018 and threw his support behind far-right pundit and presidential candidate Éric Zemmour in 2022 as his spokesman.

Collaborating with Le Pen, Messiha reportedly racked up five figures a month in payments, then  working for Zemmour’s campaign he pulled in another €32,700 for a variety of services including television appearances and organizing rallies. Throughout nearly that whole time, from 2017 to 2023, according to documents reviewed by Mediapart, Messiha was also drawing a salary from the Ministry of Armed Forces at an estimated €6,000 a month.

What was he doing for the ministry in between television appearances warning about the Islamization of the country and the forced replacement of the country’s white, Christian ethnic stock?

Nobody could say for sure, though he remained listed on the ministry’s internal staff directory and had an official government email address. Messiha denied Mediapart’s entire report and sued them for defamation. A trial will take place in Paris in November.

Now Messiha views Zemmour’s Reconquête as the future of the French right. But the dramatic betrayal of Zemmour over the past couple of days — led by Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal — makes that look less likely now, with all of the party’s MEP’s defecting back to Rassemblement National. Zemmour kicked them out of the party and said he was “disgusted and hurt by the betrayal” — but still held the door open to alliances with Le Pen’s party, Les Républicains, and “all other parties of good faith who want to defeat Macron and the Islamo-leftists.” He also pointed a finger at the behavior of the “clan” around Maréchal as part of the reason for the crack up, referring to Marion as “Maréchal Le Pen.”

Leggeri — a Heavy Proposition

The Rassemblement National announced Fabrice Leggeri as a candidate early on in its EU election campaign, as a show of its strength. Now, after coasting to an easy election, Leggeri will be one of the party’s official spokesmen for the parliamentary elections at the end of June.

Leggeri has his own long and successful career in the French civil service, and that trajectory reached its apogee in the seven years he served as the director of the European Union’s border control agency Frontex. Frontex is the EU’s first uniformed branch, with over two thousand employees and a budget at just under a billion euros a year. It’s the EU’s largest agency, and the first one to carry firearms.

Leggeri came to Frontex with decades of experience enforcing border controls for the French government. In the French Ministry of Interior he headed up everything from digitizing passports to handling “irregular migration” by combating fraud and organizing deportations.

Leggeri also accumulated experience at the European Commission level in the early 2000s, when he was a national expert for the commission from 2000 to 2003. There, he contributed to a document that recommended the formation of a Europe-wide border control agency. The recommendations of that document were adopted by the commission and led to the formation of Frontex.

Leggeri left the agency in 2022 under a cloud of controversy after reports from Der Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports revealed that the agency had been complicit in illegally pushing migrants back out into the Mediterranean. Those allegations led to an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office, which found that Frontex cofunded Greece’s coast guard forces responsible for pushing migrants back out into the Aegean Sea often in inflatable rafts with motors, that Frontex was aware of the pushbacks, that the executive management of the agency concealed cases from its own officers to prevent them from investigating, and that Frontex even withdrew aerial surveillance so the operations couldn’t be documented.

The report also found that Leggeri “actively resisted” hiring forty human rights agents, which European regulations required that the agency have (all while pushing to balloon the agency’s staff to ten thousand strong by 2027).

After Leggeri stepped down from the agency in June 2022, he went back to the Ministry of Interior, where he had a vague position as an “executive project manager” before taking an “unpaid leave of absence from the French State administration,” according to his LinkedIn page.

The location Leggeri listed for that leave gave some clue about his future plans — the Brussels Metropolitan Area. And right after he left Frontex, he was seen at the European Parliament in Strasbourg with deputies from both Les Républicains and the Rassemblement National.

With the Gaullist center-right polling much lower than the “national” camp, Le Pen’s party was a much safer choice for Leggeri to guarantee him a seat.

“We have to fight against being drowned by migration, a challenge which the European Commission and the Eurocrats minimize,” Leggeri said when he announced his candidacy in February. “My experience at Frontex confirms this reality.” Music to Le Pen’s ears.

“It’s very interesting to have somebody from the inside . . . who’s proof of what we’ve been saying for a long time,” Le Pen said in reaction to Leggeri’s announcement.

A Civilizational War

Leggeri’s remarks backed up a common concern among the Horaces, who believe that the fight against immigration is a battle in a civilizational war that threatens to overwhelm Europe.

“For those who we might encounter that are hesitating, let’s not forget to remind them that there are some ten million people in an assault base on the other side of the Mediterranean,” the creator of the group André Rougé told them in 2017.

As a Rassemblement National candidate Leggeri adopted the same rhetoric, claiming that the European Commission doesn’t view “migratory submersion” as a threat, “but more as a project.”

“I can testify to that,” he said, claiming that by contrast Le Pen’s party is “determined to fight” the commission’s plot, which they argue is furthered by last month’s adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum.

“As a senior civil servant, I served the state with honor, but I’ve also seen the limits that of political decisions, which lead to failure,” Leggeri said in February. “Faced with this, I’m choosing to become politically involved to defend the public interest and that of France.”

Leggeri and all those who’ve long wished for Le Pen to come to power suddenly see their deepest wishes coming true. Macron, that prince of chaos, has thrust France headlong into the next stage of its history.

For the Horaces, all the better.

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