French President in Deep Waters in a Quite Normal Way

January 13th, 2014
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No one has heard France's President Francois Hollande protesting: "That's no lady, that my concubine", but it is the phrase that would be appropriate, for he is not married to France's first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, who has been humiliated and placed in a very difficult position by the revelation that the president is pursuing a love affair with actress Julie Gayet.

Follow up:

The French do not appear to be remotely shocked by the revelation. A frequent comment is that Hollande promised that he would be "a normal president", in contrast, by implication, with his predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy, and he has just shown that he is indeed a normal president.

Apart from the first two presidents of the Fifth Republic, General de Gaulle himself and George Pompidou, all the later presidents have been inveterate womanisers, or "seducteurs" as the French would say, although in one sense Sarkozy was not quite normal.

When his wife left him four months after he became president in 2007, he couldn't wait to get married to his new inamorata, actress Carla Bruni, to whom, as far as is known, he remained faithful for the rest of the presidency.

Sarkozy's reputation suffered from what was considered his indecent and slightly ridiculous haste to get married to a lady who earlier boasted of her own philandering habits.

The only other socialist to become president since 1958 was Francois Mitterrand (1981-1994), who housed his mistress and child in a flat at the Elysée Palace at the taxpayers' expense, and where his wife was also in residence.

Although this was well-known to many in Paris, France's privacy laws made sure that the situation was never made public and did not become generally known until Mitterrand was on his deathbed, a fact that caused much discussion at the time about the right of the public to know.

The Paris "people" magazine Closer, which revealed Hollande's alleged affair in a seven-page article with photos, chose to flout the privacy laws. The president, who has not denied the facts of the case, is threatening to sue the magazine, and the view of those who know about these things is that the president would have a cast-iron case against the magazine.

Privacy law is based on a single sentence in the penal code:  "Every one has a right to the privacy of his private life".  In practice this covers domicile, images, voice, the fact of being pregnant, state of health, "la vie sentimentale", and correspondence, according to Wikipedia. The magazine could be forced to pay damages to the president.

President Hollande in a statement on January 10 declared that he "deplored profoundly" the lack of respect for his private life to which he had the same right as all other citizens.  Among the many politicians who backed him up was the leader of the right-wing populist Front National, Ms Marine LePen.

The public may see it otherwise. On Le Figaro's website, 82% say in an on-line poll that Closer was right to publish its story.

The revelations seem certain to damage President Hollande, who is already the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, though this is for political reasons and not because is regarded as an unsympathetic person.

This was the verdict of 78 % in an on-line poll at Closer's website. The newspapers seem to be of the same opinion - "A catastrophe for the president" said one headline - who is already the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, according to the opinion polls.

One conservative opposition member of the National Assembly said the question of the resignation of the president had to be considered, "before the values on which the nation is founded are destroyed." Another raised the question of Valerie Trierweiler's position:

"Is it normal that she remains at the Elysée Palace at the taxpayers' expense while the president has other affairs?  And who today is the first lady of France?"

Deep waters indeed for a normal president, not to mention those in charge of questions of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Palace..

Late note: The BBC and many other news outlets have published reports that First Lady Valerie Trierweiler was hospitalized Friday (10 January 2014) "for rest and some tests".

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