President Macron backs off proposal to create an official position for the first lady

France's First Lady Mrs Brigitte Macron (Julien M. Hekimian/Getty Images for Delvaux)

A proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to give the position of first lady legal status in the country has been quietly shelved after a popular online petition decried the idea of “[supporting] a statute specifically for the wife of President Macron.”

The petition, which amassed more than 300,000 signatures by the end of Wednesday, appeared to prompt a series of tweets from government spokesperson Christophe Castaner clarifying that there would not be “any modification to the Constitution, any new resources nor any remuneration” for first lady Brigitte Macron. The goal of the proposal, Castaner added, was simply to “be transparent” about the fact that “she plays a role, she has responsibilities.”

While Macron has told supporters on the campaign trail that he would like the position of first lady to be recognized as a formal position in government, the French Parliament has also been working on an ethics law to ban politicians from hiring relatives. The author of the online petition, Thierry Paul Valette, referred to the in-progress ethics law while noting that creating an official position for the first lady could allow her to hire “numerous collaborators, drivers, security and take other advantages.”

Similar sentiments were reflected in a 2016 survey by French pollster IFOP, which found that 69 percent of those polled were against an official role for the first lady.

“For the French, to give power to a spouse goes back to monarchal power: The French elect a man, not a family,” explained Jérôme Fourquet, IFOP’s director of opinion polling.

In the United States, the position of first lady was authorized to have a budget and staff in 1978, but the position remains unpaid. In recent years, it has become common for first ladies to have staffs of up to 16 to 25 people, according to a 2016 report from Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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