Macron 'to backpedal' on creating first-lady status for wife

French President Emmanuel Macron with his wife Brigitte. During his presidential campaign, Mr Macron had talked about his wife having a "real role", but had been clear that she would not be paid. A source said that the presidency will clarify Mrs Mac
French President Emmanuel Macron with his wife Brigitte. During his presidential campaign, Mr Macron had talked about his wife having a "real role", but had been clear that she would not be paid. A source said that the presidency will clarify Mrs Macron's position in the coming days, and make clear the resources at her disposal.PHOTO: REUTERS

Online petition against proposal; poll also shows majority of French people not in favour

PARIS • French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to backpedal on the issue of creating an official first-lady position for his wife, amid 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, 64, who is his former school teacher.

The issue has become a new political headache for Mr Macron after an online petition against creating the role garnered more than 200,000 signatures, and a poll showed a majority of French people were also opposed.

The presidency will clarify Mrs Macron's position in the coming days, a source told the Agence France-Presse late on Monday, adding that there would be no change to the Constitution to create a new first-lady position.

Instead, the presidency will clarify Mrs Macron's resources and make public the cost to the public purse, the source and the BFM news channel said.

The new status would have seen France copy the American system of having president and first-lady roles.

Historically, the wife of the French president has always played a public role at official functions and has a small security and secretarial staff.

But she has no formal job title, like the partners of the British prime minister and German chancellor.

The staff of Ms Valerie Trierweiler, then partner of former president Francois Hollande, cost €400,000 (S$643,000) in 2013, according to public figures.

"Brigitte Macron plays a role, has responsibilities," government spokesman Christophe Castaner wrote on Twitter. "We want transparency and to make clear the resources at her disposal."

The focus on the first-lady proposition comes at a bad time for Mr Macron as polls show his popularity slipping badly only three months after the young centrist clinched a sensational victory in May.

One poll published last week showed just 36 per cent of respondents held a positive view of him.

Parliament is also preparing to vote for a new ethics law today which will prevent MPs from employing their partners or family members as assistants after a series of scandals.

Mr Macron had always made clear his wife would not be paid in the proposed role as first lady.

"Paid by the Republic, no. Having a role, a real status, a real capacity to act, yes," Mr 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."

Reports say she is preparing to take an active role supporting charities for mental health and people with disabilities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'Macron 'to backpedal' on creating first-lady status for wife'. Print Edition | Subscribe