NANTERRE, France -- The top far-right candidate seeking to represent France in the European Parliament said Wednesday his party's goal to extract and protect people from a globalized world epitomizes progress.
Jordan Bardella, 23, hopes to become the youngest lawmaker in the EU parliament. Accompanied by Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration National Rally, Bardella already has made campaign stops in small towns and villages to promote the party's view on what they call the "France of the forgotten."
Most French parties have yet to announce their candidates for the European elections. France votes on May 26, the last of four days of balloting across the 27 remaining EU countries after Britain exits.
However, the early start by National Rally reflects the will of the party previously called National Front to outdo its performance from the last EU election, when it won more votes than any other French party.
The party, running with the slogan "Give Power to the People," is convinced it can catch momentum this year from populist gains around Europe.
Le Pen made it to the runoff of the 2017 French presidential election, where she suffered a huge defeat facing the upstart centrist, and now president, Emmanuel Macron.
Bardella said in an interview that Macron, a staunch defender of a strong EU, often contrasts nationalists to progressives.
But Bardella thinks "Macron defends ideas that are completely square, obsolete," like free trade, open borders and globalization.
"Progress today is called localism. It's called defending borders. It's called protectionism," he said. "I think it's we who truly defend progress."
Favoring local production and products is one of the themes Bardella and his team are preaching during the campaign, along with rejecting "massive immigration."
Polls show National Rally is currently a favorite, along with Macron's party.
Bardella's fresh face is in line with Le Pen's efforts to soften the party, which had pariah status when it was led by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had numerous convictions for anti-Semitism and racism.
National Rally leaders were not invited to a Paris gathering of thousands Tuesday, attended by most French parties, against anti-Semitism.
National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, along with Bardella and several party lawmakers, paid respects at the memorial outside Paris for a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, kidnapped, tortured and killed in 2006.
Bardella insisted that doesn't mean his party is isolated.
"It's not a problem," he said, explaining that National Rally's friends are the populists elsewhere in Europe, including in Italy, Hungary or Austria, where they govern.
"On the contrary, I think we're in step with history," he said.