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First Ladies' role little-defined around the world


Paris (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron's efforts to create a "real status" for First Lady Brigitte Macron have thrown a spotlight on the role of her counterparts around the world.

In some cases First Ladies have played influential behind-the-scenes roles, and in some cases have even come to power.

- No status in Europe -

With the exception of the monarchy, the partners of European heads of state and government, often discreet, have no special status and some continue to work.

In Britain, where the monarchy plays an important role in representing the country, Prime Minister Theresa May's banker husband has kept his job, as did the wives of David Cameron and Tony Blair before him.

The partner of Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, Amelie Derbaudrenghien, who has no official status and refuses the role of First Lady, continuing her work in public administration.

Another partner known for his low-key role, the media-shy husband of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, scientist Joachim Sauer, is nicknamed the "phantom of the opera".

However, the spouse of the German president traditionally leaves her job in order to take on the honorary role of First Lady.

The wife of the current president, Elke Buedenbender, raised eyebrows when she announced last March that she was giving up her job as a judge after her husband Frank-Walter Steinmeier became the new head of state.

"Pay the First Lady for her work, or abolish the position," an editorial in the centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said at the time.

In Slovenia, the president's "partner" receives a monthly remuneration for protocol expenses, up to 15 percent of the president's salary.

She or he also gets a paid absence from employment for protocole purposes, a job suspension during the president's mandate and the right to resume it once the partner leaves office.

In reality, apart in some cases from charity work, partners mainly take part in protocole during diplomatic meetings and take part in overseas visits, where a programme is often organised for them.

During NATO's summit in May in Brussels, the First Ladies visited the Magritte exhibition, a high-end leather goods shop and the royal greenhouses.

Among the First Ladies was a First Man, Gauthier Destenay, the husband of Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, the first European leader to have a same-sex partner.

- US: more defined role

The First Lady of the United States (Flotus) has means at her disposal under a 1978 law, without actually receiving a salary. She has an office at the White House and a staff with a chief of staff and press secretary.

Each First Lady has carried out the job in her own way - Hillary Clinton was the most influential aide of her husband, and tried, unsuccessfully to reform the health care system.

Michelle Obama took up the campaign against child obesity, while Melania Trump has said she wants to use her position as First Lady to campaign against cyber-bullying, an ambition which raised eyebrows given her husband's aggressive online presence.

- Partners in power -

In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega is president and his wife Rosario Murillo vice president.

Something similar happened in Argentina in 1973 when Juan Peron was president and his wife Isabel vice president. She succeeded him on his death in 1974.

Similarly in Argentina Cristina Kirchner became president in 2007, succeeding her husband Nestor.

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