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Europe

A diplomatic headache for unmarried Hollande?

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-05-13

François Hollande is the first French president-elect to enter office unmarried and living with his partner. If he chooses to remain unmarried, this would demonstrate a fundamental change in the institution of the French presidency.

French President-elect François Hollande is not the marrying type.

But as he prepares to take office he will come under pressure to formalise his relationship with his partner Valerie Trierweiler.

The Socialist, elected on May 6, cohabited for 30 years with former partner Ségolène Royal, with whom he has four children.

The couple split after her own failed attempt for the presidency in 2007.

At the time it was revealed that Hollande had been living for a year with 47-year-old Trierweiler, a twice-divorced mother of three and a journalist at French society magazine Paris Match.

The fact that she is a journalist - who changed her beat from politics to culture to avoid any conflict of interest with her partner - is the least of Hollande’s worries.

In terms of international relations, some countries, notably conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, could prove problematic to visit as a couple.

Protocol issues would also hamper Hollande in conservative societies such as India if Treirweiler were to accompany him on an official trip.

But perhaps the most intractable would be the Vatican, which would refuse to acknowledge a president’s unmarried companion, especially because she is already twice-divorced.

Not that any of this seems to bother Trierweiler.

“I’m not sure if it will come up that much,” she told AFP. “Maybe on a visit to the pope? Frankly, this is not something that worries me. This question of marriage is, above all, a private matter for us.”

Papal protocol

Hollande will be the first French president to enter office in an unmarried relationship.

In 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy started his presidential term married to wife Cecilia. The marriage soon collapsed and the president entered into a whirlwind romance with millionaire heiress and model-turned-singer Carla Bruni.

This caused immediate problems in India, where rampant press speculation over whether the couple would share a hotel suite led to Bruni being dropped from the visit.

Bruni and Sarkozy were married soon after. But even this failed to please the Vatican, notorious for applying protocol to the nth degree. It was decidedly underwhelmed by the fact that Sarkozy, already on his third marriage, had not wed Ms Bruni-Sarkozy in church.

“When an official visit to the Vatican is planned, there are negotiations with the Elysée presidential palace and the list of delegates is slimmed down,” explained a Vatican spokesman, who asked not to be named. “In the case of homosexuals, if they are open about it, then it is not viewed favourably. If they choose to hide the fact, then it’s OK.”

But the times are changing

Other European protocols have become less strict, however.

In the UK, Queen Elizabeth “is much more ‘cool’ about these things,” according to Stéphane Bern, writer for the Madame Figaro supplement of the right-leaning daily Le Figaro. "And other European courts are much less rigorous than they have been in the past."

“There is no reason that they have to get married. It’s simply a question of diplomacy, and in France the first lady is not an official title. It’s up to François Hollande and his partner to carve out their own rules and make their own mark as a couple.”

Hollande and Trierweiler seem happy so far to play the game their own way.

During his campaign, the candidate, who has also promised to legalise gay marriage in France, said that becoming a husband rather than a partner “was not a choice one makes purely because one becomes president of the republic”.

 

Date created : 2012-05-09

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