First Lady? French Angry at Emmanuel Macron Plans for Formal Role for His Wife

Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, in Paris, on July 25. Julien de Rosa/Pool/Reuters

Once upon a time, France was so dedicated to the love life of its ruler that its king had not only a Queen but also a semiofficial mistress, the maîtresse-en-titre, with her own apartments and a small salary.

But now we live in a less romantic age, and the French seem disinclined even to allow the actual wife of their current President Emmanuel Macron a formal role as first lady.

The president wants his wife, Brigitte, who famously met the future politician when Macron was her pupil at school and they wrote a play together, to take on the title, which does not currently exist in France.

But an online petition signed at the time of writing by almost 200,000 people takes issue with the proposals.

While Macron has pledged that the position will not be paid from public funds, the petition claims that it will: "There is no reason for the wife of the head of state to get a budget out of public funds," the petition's creator, Thierry Paul Valette, writes.

He also argues that such a change to French public life should not just be imposed from the top down but decided by a referendum. "It is up to the people of France to choose their representation and no one else," Valette said.

"Emmanuel Macron, although president, cannot decide everything by himself," he added. "Many voted for him just to block the Front National and not because they endorsed his program."

And Valette points out that employing family members is currently a hot issue in France. During the election campaign the center-right candidate Francois Fillon was badly damaged by a scandal involving his employment of his wife and children as parliamentary assistants.

Macron has since resolved to ban lawmakers from employing their spouses. "In a period of moralization in French politics, when a decree was passed prohibiting deputies from employing a member of their family," Valette writes, "we cannot decently endorse the initiative of a specific statute to the wife of President Macron."

Valette says the petition will be sent directly to Macron.

Macron has argued strongly in favor of the position. "When you're elected president of the Republic, you live with someone, you give your days and nights, you give your public life and your private life," he told French broadcaster TF1 in May.

"So the person who lives with you must have a role and be recognized in that role."