Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 3


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2022): +12%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: +8,5%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (February 2024): 0 
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 28/74

01 Speakers

Among established democracies, France stands out in several respects. The French president has more power than any other head of state in Western Europe. Its modern history contains several turbulent events, with huge domestic and international impact. And the electorate has consistently shown high support for various far left and far right movements.

The French Communist Party (PCF) was founded in 1920 and is one of few far left parties in Western Europe that managed to become the dominant left-wing party in its country, often outperforming the Socialist Party (PS) at elections and controlling the largest trade-union organisation, the CGT, as well as the highly influential newspaper L’Humanité. The PCF, like many other communist parties loyal to the Soviet Union, won legitimacy during the war and enjoyed great electoral success in the first post-war elections. The PCF was even part of the first, short-lived, post-occupation French governments under the so-called “tripartism system” (together with the PS and the Christian Democrats). From 1947, however, the party was excluded from government cooperation and came to be isolated for a long period, as a result of its close connections with the Soviet Union. 


Among the voters, however, the PCF remained the most popular left-wing party in all elections until 1978. In the 1956 election, the PCF became the largest party in the country, the first time this had happened in Western Europe. Support slowly weakened the following decades. PCF stubbornly rejected the Eurocommunist turn of its sister party in Italy, on the contrary opting for a hardened, more pro-Soviet approach in the late 1970s, in combination with anti-immigration rhetoric. When the PCF returned to government, as a minor coalition partner to the PS after Mitterand’s victory in the 1981 presidential election, it was weaker than before, holding only four ministerial posts (later reduced to three). 


In 1994 Robert Hue succeeded long-time party leader George Marchais, and initiated a reform of the party’s centralised structure and marxist-leninist dogmas. PCF participated again in government between 1997-2002. Diminishing support in the 2000s led PCF to join an electoral coalition in 2012 and then again in 2022, this time as part of the broad green-left coalition that includes both the PS and the Green party.


Jean-Luc Mélenchon had a long career within the Socialist Party behind him when he left in 2008 to form the Left Party (PG), ahead of the upcoming European Elections. The PG then formed the Left Front (FG) together with, among others, the PCF. For the 2012 presidential election, Mélenchon became the candidate for a broad radical left movement. In 2016, France Unbowed (FI) originated as an electoral platform with Mélenchon as its leader, again selected as the leading leftist candidate in the presidential election in 2017, this time reaching around 20 percent. He repeated that achievement in 2022. For the 2022 parliamentary elections, FI joined PS, PCF and several other parties in yet another coalition called the NUPES (New ecological and social people’s union). 

FI is rooted in far left-ideas, with a clear populist approach, somewhat similar to Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. Besides being radically leftist on economic issues, it mostly takes moderate positions on social issues. It is softly eurosceptic, in favour of renegotiating the European treaties. FI also wants France to leave Nato. Mélenchon defended Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 and voted against sanctions against Russia, even though he criticised Putin after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. As late as 2019, Mélenchon expressed admiration for the Venezuelan regime.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Outside of the PCF and FI, several other far left parties have gained a minor following through the years, including the Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle (LO).


The radical right also has a long history in France. The Union for the defence of traders and artisans (UFF) was a populist party led by Pierre Poujade. Poujade had supported Pétain during the first years of occupation. In 1953 he led a tax revolt in southern France that soon came to be known as Poujadism. It was a broad coalition united through opposition against urbanisation, Americanization, and centralization, and the movement’s defence of shopkeepers and small business owners against tax authorities and supermarkets (in the words of Catherine Fieschi ”a tax revolt dressers up as Political rebellion”. Poujade was basically an anti-modernist, following a reactionary tradition of thought dating back to the days of the revolution. Poujade used a sharp populist rhetoric, including calling the National Assembly ‘the biggest brothel in Paris’ and bragging about his own lack of education.” His movement also harboured strong anti-semitism and defended French Algeria against independence. 


One of those who took a seat in the National Assembly for the Poujadists in 1956 was Jean-Marie Le Pen, then the youngest member of parliament ever. Three years later, he made headlines for the first time when he accused president de Gaulle of a coup d’état: “I allow myself to call a cat a cat and a coup d’état a coup d’état”. At the beginning of 1960, he was arrested by the police for his calls for violent strikes, and when Prime Minister Debré explained the contents of the peace agreement in Algeria in the spring of 1962, Le Pen shouted that he should be hanged.


The election outcome in 1956 came as a shock to the establishment, as an anti-system party managed to garner ten percent of the vote. But after the success, Poujade quickly faded from the political scene. 

In 1972, Le Pen instead became leader of the National Front (FN), which began as a merger of several small extreme right organisations and groups of veterans from the Algerian war. The FN is the single most important far right party in postwar Europe. As Catherine Fieschi argues, Le Pen “rewrote the gamebook for challenger parties on the right and shaped contemporary populism”. The FN has had huge influence not only French but also European politics, although it so far never has been close to actually joining a government.

Jean-Marie Le Pen (with daughter Marine Le Pen in knee).

After having failed to gather interest and commitment among the extreme right in its first decade, the breakthrough of FN came in the local elections in 1983 – leading to several cooperations with the centre-right – and the European elections in 1984, the first electoral campaign where Le Pen could benefit from participating in national TV debates. Ahead of the legislative elections in 1986, the centre-right was divided on whether to cooperate with the far right. The introduction of a proportional electoral system came to benefit the FN, and Mitterand was accused of pushing through the change in order to split the right, and to have urged the media to give smaller parties more coverage. Due to a switch to a majoritarian electoral system in 1988, the FN lost their seats even though the electoral support remained around ten percent (and 15 percent for Le Pen in the presidential election the same year). Support continued to rise in the 1990s, while the party was still marginalised by other parties at the national level. In 1995, the Front won its first mayoral races in the towns of Toulon and Orange. In 2002 Le Pen shocked the establishment when he made it to the second round of the presidential election. It generated a large-scale mobilisation against the far right, with voters from the far left to the centre right uniting behind the unpopular president Jacques Chirac in the final round.


The rest of the decade was difficult for FN with decreasing support. In 2011, Le Pen finally stepped aside and let his daughter Marine Le Pen take over the leadership of the party. She initiated a process of “dediabolisation” (de-demonisation), trying to moderate the message and give the FN a more modern approach, eventually changing the name to National Rally (RN). She even expelled her own father from the party that he had created. 

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s FN was the quintessential populist party. “Le Pen – le Peuple” read one of its famous electoral slogans. It followed in the anti-modernist tradition of Poujadism. True to its ideals, it was against the nation-wide celebration of the bicentennial of the revolution in 1989. The FN formulated an ethnic version of French nationalism in sharp contrast to official republicanism. It was the party for those who never wanted to forget the Algerian War, and never forgave De Gaulle for the surrender. It barely tried to hide its antisemitism.

Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán.

Marine Le Pen has tried to modernise the party in those aspects. Opposition to immigration, however, remains very important for the party, with arguments that immigration constitutes an existential threat to French identity. In his book Inside the Mind of Marine Le Pen, Michel Eltchaninoff argues that there indeed is an ideological base for the RN of Le Pen, even though many argue differently. He quotes Jean-Claude Martinez, senior member of the party, as saying that ”Le Pen doesn’t have any ideas. She only acts through instinct”.


Economically, the RN used to be clearly right-leaning, even being influenced by neo-liberal ideas of the 1970s and 1980s, but in the 2000s it has turned left, nowadays supporting a strong welfare state and often attacking the centrist government from the left. In social issues, the party has become less conservative over time. When the National Assembly voted to constitutionally protect the right to abortion in March 2024, the party was divided in the vote. 


Although never part of the government, the FN/RN has been very influential even when it comes to policy. The established right gradually took steps to follow the anti-immigration stance, with Sarkozy almost outperforming the FN in this respect in the presidential campaign in 2007. The republican and gaullist centre-right has continued down this path for most of the 2020s, with ever more disappointing electoral results. 

During the pandemic, RN exploited popular resistance against the restrictions. When Macron said that he wanted to “emmerder” (mess with) with unvaccinated, he deepened the electoral divide, since survey showers that 90 per cent of the unvaccinated group supported Le Pen.

Eric Zemmour, party leader of R!

Forever in the shadow of the FN/RN, several other radical rights have appeared and enjoyed occasional success. Movement for France (MPF) was founded in 1994 by Philippe de Villiers, and enjoyed a brief success by finishing third in the 1994 EP elections. Self-described as a Gaullist party, It combined conservative values with soft euroscepticism. France Arise (DLF) is a eurosceptic and anti-immigration party that was founded in 1999 by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan as a splinter from the centre-right RPR. It leans left on economic issues, advocating for protectionism.


Reconquest (R!) was formed in 2021 around journalist Eric Zemmour. The party is to be regarded as authoritarian and far right, as it leans towards the racist conspiracy theory of “the great replacement” (meaning that Muslim migrants will replace French citizens) and Zemmour has expressed sympathy for the actions of the Vichy regime. It wants to “slash immigration to almost zero” and conduct a policy of “de-Islamisation”, including large-scale deportations. Additionally, it is strongly eurosceptic and also critical of France’s involvement in Nato. On economic issues, it takes a right-wing position. 


Zemmour had high opinion figures early in the presidential campaign in 2022 but eventually failed. It also got a modest result in the legislative elections later that spring.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 3/18


The National Front entered the EP in 1984, after which they founded the very first far right group in the parliament, together with MSI from Italy. The group was continued in 1989, now with Belgian and German far right parties, but dissolved in 1994. In 2007 the FN created the short-lived Tradition, Identity, Sovereignty group, which was dissolved the same year. The FN/RN then continued without group affiliation until 2015, when they formed the EFN group, since 2019 renamed ID. The RN currently holds 22 seats, being the dominant delegation in the ID group.


Since the first EP elections in 1979, the PCF has been one of the largest delegations to the far left group, together with the Italian communists in the 1980s. Since 2019, PCF is not represented in the EP, with FI taking up its position, currently holding six seats.

FI summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM

RN summary

Economics: CENTRE
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM

R! summary

Economics: RIGHT
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW