France: Shaking up the role of First Lady

President François Hollande’s companion, Valérie Trierweiler, objects to being called First Lady.

Don’t call her the First Lady, said Sébastien Le Fol in Le Figaro. President François Hollande’s companion, Valérie Trierweiler, says she finds the term “repugnant” and is seeking another one. To help her out, this newspaper is running an online referendum so readers can vote on a new moniker. So far, “la première concubine” is in the lead, followed by “la first girlfriend.” Of course, Trierweiler would reject both of those terms, just as she rejects her entire new role. Touring the Elysée Palace last month after Hollande was elected, Trierweiler conceded that the staff was very nice, but then sniffed that she couldn’t possibly be merely the mistress of the presidential household. “I discovered that one expects a First Lady to kiss sick children or plan menus, and this revolts me!” she informed us. Instead, she has announced that she will keep her job as a journalist for the weekly Paris Match, conflict of interest be damned.

This puts Paris Match in an awkward position, said Fanny Guinochet in Le Nouvel Observateur. Trierweiler is no longer the employee she was before the election. “Firing the First Lady would look bad.” And how will they negotiate her salary? Trierweiler justifies her decision with an appeal to feminism. The twice-divorced mother of three boys says she cannot depend on a man—even the president—for her family’s financial well-being. The problem, of course, said Pascale Nivelle in Libération, is that journalists’ credibility demands their “complete independence” from politicians. How can she achieve that while sleeping with the president? Trierweiler brushes aside such criticism, saying she will write only on “cultural affairs,” not politics.

Sorry, but culture is political—especially in France, said Béatrice Vallaeys, also in Libération. Politicians always have favorite artists, writers, and singers that they use to embody their political programs. Choosing to review a particular book or film, whether it is “elitist or subversive,” is not an apolitical act for any journalist, much less one who is connected to the president. “Instead of serving the journalistic profession, as she thinks, she’s giving it a kick in the behind.” She wants to work to support her kids? Fine. Just not in journalism. Every word she writes would be politically loaded.

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She proved that in spades this week with a single tweet, said Rory Mulholland in Agence France-Presse. Trierweiler couldn’t resist a “catty” dig at Ségolène Royal, who was Hollande’s companion for three decades before Trierweiler came along, and who is the mother of his four children. Royal is running for a parliamentary seat with Hollande’s open backing—but Trierweiler tweeted that she hoped the other guy would win. Hollande’s Socialist party is furious, while the opposition is scornful. “It’s like Dallas at the Elysée,” one opposition politician said. With Trierweiler by his side, will this “soap opera” last through Hollande’s whole term?

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