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Macron to backpedal on creating official position for First Lady after backlash

An online petition against creating the role garnered around 270,000 signatures.

world Updated: Aug 08, 2017 17:13 IST
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron walk in the Elysee Palace courtyard July 6, 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron walk in the Elysee Palace courtyard July 6, 2017.(Reuters)

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 attacks from left-wing opponents and a petition against the move, officials and reports said.

The newly-elected 39-year-old president had promised in March on the campaign trail to create “a real status” for his wife Brigitte, who is his former schoolteacher.

The issue has become a new political headache for Macron after an online petition against creating the role garnered around 270,000 signatures and an opinion poll showed a majority of French people were also opposed.

The presidency will clarify Brigitte Macron’s position in the coming days, a source told AFP late on Monday, adding that there were would be no change to the constitution to create a First Lady position.

Instead, the presidency will make clear the resources at Brigitte Macron’s disposal and the cost to the public purse.

“The idea is for the French people to know how much this role costs,” Aurore Berge, 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 Valerie Trierweiler, the former partner of ex-president Francois Hollande, cost €400,000 ($470,000 dollars) in 2013, according to public figures.

In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo, French president Francois Hollande and his companion Valerie Trierweiler wait for German President Joachim Gauckand, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris. (AP)

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% 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”.