No official 'first lady' status due for France's Brigitte Macron
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Reports suggest French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to backpedal on the issue of creating an official First Lady position for his wife in the face of opposition to the move, although the Élysée Palace rejects that characterisation.
The newly elected 39-year-old president had promised on the campaign trail in March to create "a real status" for his wife Brigitte.
The issue has become a new political headache for Macron after an online petition against creating the role garnered more than 280,000 signatures and an opinion poll showed a majority of French people were also opposed.
The Élysée Palace is pledging to clarify Brigitte Macron’s “public role” in a document to be released in the weeks to come. But it is already clear that she will not benefit from an official status; instead, the president’s wife will have to settle for a mere “charter of transparency”. The presidency will make clear the resources at Brigitte Macron's disposal and the cost to the public purse.
The move, the Élysée says, should not be viewed as backpedalling. “As candidate, Macron made it known that he wanted to end the hypocrisy and clarify Brigitte Macron’s public role. At no time did he mention a possible modification of the Constitution,” a member of her entourage told FRANCE 24’s Aude Mazoué.
“This letter [in the petition] certainly rekindled journalists’ interest in this issue but it has in no way changed our position,” the source said.
"The idea is for the French people to know how much this role costs," Aurore Bergé, a senior lawmaker from Macron's Republic on the Move party, told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.
The new status would have seen France copy the American tradition of a prominent public role for the First Lady. Neither country has ever had a female head of state.
The wife of the French president has historically always played a public role at official functions, welcoming heads of state or other VIPs at meetings or dinners.
She has a small security and secretarial staff paid for by the presidential budget, but she has no formal job title -- like the partners of the British prime minister or German chancellor.
The staff of Valérie Trierweiler, the former partner of ex-president François Hollande, cost 400,000 euros (470,000 dollars) in 2013, according to public figures.
The focus on the First Lady proposition comes at a bad time for Macron as opinion polls show his popularity slipping badly only three months after the young centrist clinched a sensational victory in May.
One survey published last week showed just 36 percent of respondents held a positive view of him.
As well as pushing through cuts to public spending, parliament is also preparing to vote for a new ethics law this week which will prevent MPs from employing their partners or family members as assistants after a series of scandals.
"But I see that sometimes one can create a role for one's partner," opposition MP Ugo Bernalicis from the far-left France Unbowed party said sarcastically during a debate in late July.
He criticised the idea of according resources to Brigitte Macron "even though she has never been elected".
Macron had always made clear that Brigitte would not be paid in the proposed role as First Lady, arguing that creating the position would make it more transparent.
"Paid by the Republic, no. Having a role, a real status, a real capacity to act, yes," Macron said in March when asked about his vision for the future position on RTL radio.
Brigitte would "have the role that she's always had. That's to say that she is at my side because it balances me. We've always worked like that," he added.
"She will have a role, she won't be hidden because she's part of my life," he said.
Brigitte Macron, who at 64 is 25 years older than her husband, married her former pupil after they fell in love while writing a play together at school in their home town of Amiens, northern France.
She is preparing to take an active role supporting mental health and handicap charities.
“The French have a real interest in her,” the member of Brigitte Macron’s entourage told FRANCE 24. “In three months, she has received as much mail as Valérie Trierweiler did in a year.”
Nevertheless, the petition against her becoming First Lady was posted on the website change.org by a "painter-activist" Thierry Paul Valette and had 286,000 signatures at 5pm on Tuesday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)