Not all French business elites look favorably on the rise of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. But tech bosses, fossil fuel magnates, and “alternative finance” chiefs see plenty to like in its program — and they’re putting their support behind it.

Rassemblement National leaders Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella address supporters on June 9, 2024. (Julien de Rosa / AFP via Getty Images)

If we believed that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National represented the “left-behind,” it might be surprising to see how many wealthy entrepreneurs are backing it ahead of France’s decisive parliamentary elections. Even more surprising is the fact that business support for the French far right now extends to sectors not traditionally associated with the nationalist right, from investment fund managers to tech entrepreneurs and energy bosses. All this looks markedly different from the days when the Rassemblement National was primarily supported by building contractors and shop owners.

Journalists have been careful not to make general claims about this development — often attributing such business support to the personal opinions of wealthy entrepreneurs and the broader fascization of French political life. However, as media investigations reveal more connections between the French far right and the business community, a striking fact emerges. These entrepreneurs come from a very small number of sectors — and beyond their personal whims, they support the far right because they think it will promote their business interests.

Sectors of Support

The French far right is supported by wealthy entrepreneurs from three main sectors. Finance is the most prominent of these. This is not just any financial sector, but rather “alternative finance,” which includes various sorts of investment funds, as opposed to mainstream finance, with its retail banks and stock market actors. For example, Le Monde has revealed that Pierre-Edouard Stérin, the founder of private equity fund Otium Capital, is a staunch supporter of Marine Le Pen and has backed both her personal and political endeavors. His business partner in Otium Capital, François Durvye, recently paid €2.5 million to the Le Pen family to buy their mansion in western Paris, while allowing the elderly Jean-Marie Le Pen to live there for the rest of his life. Another example is Charles Gave and his hedge fund Gavekal, a secretive firm based in Hong Kong. French investigative website Médiapart has highlighted how Gave supported white-supremacist candidate Éric Zemmour’s presidential campaign by lending him €300,000 and also contributed to the far-right journal Conflicts.

Then comes the energy sector, particularly the fossil fuel industry. The rise of the far right in recent years has been supported by the emergence of the CNews network. Originally called iTele and the French equivalent of CNN, the news channel was bought by Vincent Bolloré, a far-right businessman worth €12 billion. He rebranded it as CNews, fired a large part of the staff, and turned it into a French equivalent of Fox News. Beyond his media holdings, Bolloré made his fortune in the fossil fuel sector, owning a majority of the oil depots in France and many others in Europe; until recently, he also owned transport infrastructure in Africa. He has constantly supported the far right. Bolloré recruited Zemmour to CNews as a pundit before he made his unsuccessful 2022 presidential bid; he also orchestrated the alliance between Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and the traditional right-wing Les Républicains by hosting their respective leaders in his personal home in Paris to negotiate. The far right is said to have connections with other current or former executives of French energy and fossil fuel majors such as Engie, Total Energies, and Électricité de France.

The French nationalist right is working hand in hand with climate deniers and fossil fuel enthusiasts.

Finally, the far right has been supported by figures from the tech sector. French newspaper Libération has reported that the Rassemblement National enjoys the backing of start-up founders like Thomas Fauré, the head of corporate social network Whaller, and Laurent Alexandre, the founder of digital healthcare platform Doctissimo, who has now become a libertarian intellectual. These two tech entrepreneurs have lent their influence to the Rassemblement National and also contributed to its tech program. Charles Beigbeder is another influential tech figure backing the far right. In the 2000s, he founded the start-up Poweo and chaired CroissancePlus, a lobby for French start-ups; he is now a partner at venture capital fund Quantonation. Beigbeder has funded Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of Marine Le Pen and a former figure in Zemmour’s Reconquête party.

This situation should prompt us to reevaluate how we think about the French far right. In the 2010s, academics and journalists drawing on the work of political scientist Chantal Mouffe interpreted Rassemblement National’s rising strength through the lens of “populism.” They focused on the mystery of Le Pen’s support among the working class. This vote, seemingly opposed to the class interest of these groups, has often been described as a result of deindustrialization following decades of neoliberal policies.

These approaches adapt to today’s context the analysis that Karl Polanyi developed to explain the birth of fascism in the twentieth century. However, they also overlook subtler interpretations. For instance, Nicos Poulantzas showed how the fascist parties of the early twentieth century found fertile ground in the working class and petty bourgeoisie but only rose to power when they managed to attract support from the business elite, too. Overemphasizing the power of the vote in democratic regimes, approaches using the “populism” concept have prevented us from examining the real mechanisms behind the conquest of power, specifically the process of building coalitions with groups that exert power in dominant corporations and administrations. French far-right movements have been more strategic; they have actively engaged in constructing such coalitions by including targeted measures in their manifestos.

Defending Corporate Interests

The French press has often suggested that some business owners support the far right because it fits with their personal opinions, and they have the money to back this up financially. For instance, Pierre-Edouard Stérin is said to back the Rassemblement National due to his traditional Catholic beliefs, while Charles Beigbeder is reported to support Zemmour because of his own lifelong involvement in right-wing politics.

But bourgeois support for the French far right extends beyond such personal whims. The Rassemblement National’s manifesto, for example, is incredibly favorable to the alternative finance sector. Among the party’s proposals, one stands out: the creation of a €500 billion “sovereign fund” that would “channel the savings of French people into small and medium businesses.” Here, the Rassemblement National directly echoes the lobbying efforts of alternative finance, which has lamented for decades the lack of a major French sovereign or pension fund. When such organizations are created, like the (small) Banque Publique d’Investissement or the (larger) European Investment Bank, the assets entrusted to these public financial institutions are not managed by civil servants for direct investment into private corporations. Instead, they are placed into private investment funds, which then invest the capital into private companies.

The sovereign fund proposed by the Rassemblement National is gigantic. It would represent a tenfold increase in the current assets of the Banque Public d’Investissement (€43 billion) or more than double the assets of the European Investment Bank (€243 billion). The proposal involves channeling €100 billion of French household savings annually into the sovereign fund. Last year, the French saved a total of €109.5 billion — meaning that almost all available household savings would need to be directed to this fund. The Rassemblement National plans to achieve this by offering capital and return guarantees along with tax incentives for savers. In other words, the state would redirect savings from traditional financial sectors, such as savings accounts and life insurance, to alternative finance through taxpayer-funded incentives. French alternative finance would grow exponentially: according to its lobby, France Invest, it currently invests €30 billion to €40 billion per year. With this fund, it would more than double its annual investments, generating billions in profit for asset management companies in the sector — an incredible windfall even for a sector that has enjoyed significant public support from previous governments.

It’s obvious why fossil fuel owners are interested in the far right. It is, indeed, working hand in hand with climate deniers and fossil fuel enthusiasts. The Rassemblement National proposes cutting the value-added tax on fuel from the standard 20 percent rate to 5.5 percent. This move would come at a significant cost for the French taxpayer (€24 billion), but it would allow major oil corporations to increase their margins and sales volumes. The party also aims to repeal the European Union’s planned 2035 ban on new petrol cars, impose a moratorium on new onshore windfarm projects across France, and eliminate restrictive environmental regulations for landlords. These measures promise fossil corporations lucrative market opportunities for decades to come.

The same applies to the tech sector. The Rassemblement National has developed a project for the sector called “sovereign tech.” Many French tech entrepreneurs find this proposal appealing as they struggle with American big tech giants and seek to gain market share in France and Europe, especially in cloud computing and social networks. For example, the Rassemblement National manifesto proposes forcing foreign firms in strategic tech sectors operating in France to sell parts of their businesses to French or European competitors and would require US social networks to implement moderation strategies defined by French lawmakers for French content. The manifesto also suggests that public administrations should exclusively procure tech services from French (or European, in some cases) companies. This would exclude Silicon Valley tech companies from lucrative contracts in cloud and data management, such as the recent agreement between Microsoft Cloud and the French national health insurance, Assurance Maladie — an agreement that sparked protests from French tech entrepreneurs. The far right aims to protect the interests of significant portions of the tech sector, particularly French and European companies struggling against US competition and seeking to increase their market share domestically.

Beyond the lucrative measures for these three sectors, the Rassemblement National now appears to be involved in a broader conflict within French capitalism. It promotes the bolstering of certain sectors’ business models by injecting funds and implementing favorable regulations, while also targeting their competitors. It is worth noting that many sectors of French business don’t support the far-right movement. Staunch supporters of Emmanuel Macron’s rise to power include wealthy business owners in the insurance sector, such as Axa’s Claude Bébéar; the telecom sector, such as Altice’s Patrick Drahi and Free’s Xavier Niel; and the export industry, such as LVMH’s Bernard Arnault or logistics giant CMA CGM’s Rodolphe Saadé. These figures do not seem to endorse the Rassemblement National. Some are even apprehensive about its gains, as the party’s manifesto threatens crucial aspects of their operations. For instance, the proposed tax on shipowners would directly impact Saadé’s CMA CGM, a major French shipping firm that also owns several media outlets. In other cases, the threat is more indirect; the €500 billion sovereign fund would divert savings away from other financial sectors, potentially affecting banking and insurance corporations.

It’s important to avoid simplistic analyses that link the rise of the far right with the support of an allegedly monolithic business elite.

Here, it’s important to avoid simplistic analyses that link the rise of the far right with the support of an allegedly monolithic business elite. These analyses were developed from the 1930s by Stalinist intellectuals, who used to emphasize the role of “the bourgeoisie” in the emergence of fascism and sometimes equated capitalism with fascism. This portrayal of the fascist state as simply an instrument of the entire bourgeoisie oversimplifies matters. While far-right movements rely heavily on support from certain segments of the bourgeoisie, they do not represent business as a whole. The ascent of far-right movements is a tool that specific parts of the business world use to realign the balance of power between business sectors to their own advantage. In the case of the Rassemblement National, it is clear that the party seeks — and secures — support from certain groups of business owners. However, these groups are engaged in a struggle with other parts of the business community, both within France and internationally. In other words, the far right exploits divisions within French capitalism. It seeks backing from business sectors that are growing but feel neglected under the current regime. The rise of the Rassemblement National occurs within this context of competition among different factions of the bourgeoisie.

Rising Bloc

The current situation reveals that far-right parties now serve a dual role in French capitalism. First, they translate the interests of emerging business sectors into political action. This translation process is complex and requires a substantial infrastructure. It involves recruiting lobbyists who understand the language and priorities of major businesses, such as Sophie Dumont, a former lobbyist for the French private health sector now serving as a parliamentary assistant to the Rassemblement National. It also entails establishing personal credibility within these industries, as demonstrated by Rassemblement National MP Aurélien Lopez-Liguori’s efforts toward the tech sector over recent years, where he has translated the policy proposals of his tech contacts into draft bills. In his work on lobbying, political sociologist Sylvain Laurens highlights how the state consolidates power by monopolizing relationships with business communities. For the Rassemblement National, seizing control of the French state involves creating the gateways that enable the party to exert this monopoly.

Second, the Rassemblement National is engaged in constructing a social bloc around these business groups. It would be a mistake to overlook the expanding social base of the far right. Of course, the racist, sexist, and ableist dimensions of the Rassemblement National’s manifesto cater to demands from the business community. Consider Bolloré’s wealth, which has been inherited over two centuries and includes ownership of infrastructure in former French colonies (such as the African ports formerly owned through Bolloré Logistics). Preserving this wealth necessitates reinforcing patriarchal and racist social structures. However, these dimensions also contribute to forming a broader social bloc that extends beyond influential business owners. Sociologist Félicien Faury has studied Rassemblement National voters in southern France. He has revealed how they are predominantly white owners of property (such as their homes or small businesses) who aim to safeguard their economic, social, and political position by voting for a party that wants to strengthen the current racially segregated order. The Rassemblement National is forging a coalition that includes powerful business interests alongside broader social groups, and racist policies are pivotal to this coalition due to their broad acceptance among both wealthy business owners and other constituents of the party’s base. The construction of such a social bloc around far-right business leaders is crucial for achieving electoral majority and safeguarding the long-term interests of these firms.

The good news (if there is any today) is that even if the Rassemblement National manages to reach power, it may struggle to sustain these two roles. The business groups represented by the far right will inevitably develop divergent interests, leading to internal conflicts. Moreover, these business groups will clash with other segments of the party’s social base. Social movement activists resisting far-right policies help amplify these divergences. For example, environmental struggles would give the party a harder time in implementing its fossil-friendly agenda. Likewise, anti-racist activists hinder the Rassemblement National’s efforts to enforce its racist policies. The party is experimenting with a new power bloc — and these movements have the potential to turn this experiment into a dead end. These social struggles complicate the delicate task of aligning the interests of fossil fuel businesses, white property owners in southern France, and other constituents of its social base. The coalition of business groups supporting the Rassemblement National is thus a double-edged sword. It shows that recent votes reflect more than just transient shifts in public opinion. But it is also an indication of what can make the far right fail over the long run: the interests that it defends remain heterogeneous and social movements can contribute to breaking them apart.

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