Marine Tondelier, among the representatives of the Nouveau Front Populaire, on the day of the first round of the legislative elections. Paris, Place de la République, June 30, 2024.

Is it because far-right leader Jordan Bardella categorically refused to debate her? Or because she captured the emotion of a “shocked,” “angry” left on radio station France Inter on Monday, July 1, while facing Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who was reluctant to a block the far right with a republican front including the radical-left La France Insoumise (LFI) party? In the space of just a few days, 37-year-old Marine Tondelier, leader of the Greens, has become a key figure in the run-up to the second round of France’s snap parliamentary elections on July 7. Her popularity has the advantage of extending beyond the left’s circles, a rare occurrence.

This is nothing new. She had already won the esteem of former French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, whom she met during a meeting between leaders of opposition parties. At the time, the two women talked about ecology, but also about machismo in politics… The subject remains topical, at a time when TV station France 2’s second-round debate show features an all-men line-up, including Bardella, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, Socialist-backed MEP Raphaël Glucksmann and conservative Les Répbulicains member David Lisnard. This follows other two all-male debates that were held for the first round of voting in June.

On Wednesday, July 3, Tondelier spoke for an hour on TV station BFM-TV, but her airtime was before, and not opposite, Bardella. The aspiring Rassemblement National (RN) prime minister wasn’t there to hear Tondelier denounce “the GUD [Groupe union défense, a far-right group dissolved a week ago by the government], the friends of Bardella, people with swastikas tattooed on their bodies,” accusing them of taking part in racist attacks against unaccompanied foreign minors.

Fighting habits

The Pas-de-Calais native, in northern France, and candidate against RN leader Marine Le Pen in the constituency of Hénin-Beaumont in 2012, 2017, 2022 and now MP, has the advantage of having fought the RN on her home turf for as long as she can remember, and of having lived through the entire history of the left’s decline in the mining basin. When LFI leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon ran (and lost) against Le Pen in the constituency in 2012, she was there. “Another Marine is possible,” she proclaimed at the time. Le Pen’s victory in 2017? She was there too.

Through close encounters with the far right, whether on the town council, or at the local market, where she put on a karaoke campaign in 2012 just a few yards away from Le Pen, who was sipping rosé, Tondelier has picked up some fighting habits. Useful for survival in politics, including on the left. From “ça suffit, les forceurs” (“that’s enough, hardliners”), launched against LFI Manuel Bompard’s insistence on a single group for the European elections, to the more recent “je m’en fous” (“I don’t give a damn”), to yet another question about Mélenchon, Tondelier doesn’t mince her words. “I’ve learned that when faced with the far right, you have to know how to get out of its grip,” she said back in 2023.

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