Why the French don’t want Queen Brigitte

There will be no official first-lady status for Brigitte Macron, it was announced on Monday night. French president Emmanuel Macron is preparing to backtrack after a petition signed by nearly 300,000 protested the proposal of giving his wife an official title, status and budget.

During his election campaign, Macron promised to ‘clarify’ the role of the president’s partner and said the current situation was a ‘kind of French hypocrisy’. While campaigning, he said, ‘The person living with you should be able to have a role and be recognised for that role’. And it is true that, traditionally, the French president’s wife has always had an unofficial role and paid staff – Carla Bruni, wife of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, had eight advisers.

However, there is more than a hint of hypocrisy to this proposal. Macron’s government has just ratified legislation aimed at preventing nepotism among MPs – MPs can no longer employ their spouses, although, in true French fashion, hiring lovers is still okay. Macron has also proposed major cuts to public spending, yet any official first-lady role would have come out of the public purse.

French people, of course, are well aware that Brigitte, Macron’s former schoolteacher and 25 years his senior, holds a great deal of influence over their new president. French commentators have nicknamed her the vice-president and satirists have portrayed her as a regent figure, telling the young Macron what to do.

It is also unsurprising that the kingly Macron wants a queen to rule with. His predilection for pomp and grandeur (he chose to address his parliament at the Versailles palace), his autocratic leanings (he wants to cut MP numbers), and his self-declared preference for a separation of the executive from the legislative bodies, all fit the ruling monarch role nicely.

While Macron’s supporters like to present him as Europe’s answer to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Macron seems to prefer a US-style presidency, where wife and family come as part of the package. Macron took the unusual decision to have Brigitte join him on stage after winning the first round of the presidential election. Then, when he won the election proper, he brought the whole step-family on-stage to wave and gurn at the crowds.

A report in French newspaper La Libération, gave a quick round-up of how the roles of other countries’ leaders’ spouses measure up. After giving some detail on the US first lady role, the report summed up the situation here in the UK, with the – slightly catty – sentence: ‘Philip May is an unknown.’

Macron’s popularity is dropping fast in the polls. Last month the polls showed a seven per cent drop, meaning just 37 per cent of the French are currently happy with him. The self-proclaimed Jupiter-esque leader might do well to remember what the French did to their monarchs.

Naomi Firsht is staff writer at spiked and co-author of The Parisians’ Guide to Cafés, Bars and Restaurants. Follow her on Twitter: @Naomi_theFirsht

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