The office of President Emmanuel Macron rowed back on Monday from plans to give his wife Brigitte Macron a formal, paid role, after a public backlash which threatened to undermine his broader agenda of change and modernisation. In a statement, the presidency said Brigitte Macron would carry out “certain tasks” on behalf of the state, but would not get a salary, budget or separate office, instead working out of the Elysee Palace. More than 220,000 people signed a petition against the initial plans for her position, accusing President Macron of nepotism. Unlike the U.S. First Lady, the wife of the French president does not have a formal role, although they are often informal champions for charitable causes.
Past French presidential wives have had small teams working for them at the Elysee, but did not receive a salary. Nevertheless, previous arrangements concerning perks for the wives, or partners, of French presidents had lacked transparency, which President Macron had sought to challenge. While the official role of his wife was one of Macron’s lesser priorities, the fact that he has had to scale back on this particular plan marks another setback for him.
Macron has steadily lost ground in popularity ratings in the last month, after tough debates in parliament over his labour reform and public ethics law, a dispute with the military and cuts to housing assistance. In her first interview since her husband won the presidential election in May, Brigitte Macron told Elle magazine last week that she paid little attention to her status as France’s First Lady, adding she was happy for people to address her simply as “Brigitte.” “I don’t feel as if I’m the ‘First Lady’, which is the translation of an American expression, a figure of speech which does not appeal to me in the least. When I hear people say it, I always want to look behind me and say – “Who are they talking about?.” “I am not the First Lady, nor the last, nor even a ‘Lady’! I am simply Brigitte Macron.”