Meet France’s new power couple

François Hollande with his former partner, Ségolène Royal, 2007. Photograph: Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

French president François Hollande and his partner Valérie Trierweiler are now France’s first family. So how will they differ from the Sarkozys?

by Angela Chrisafis, The Guardian

On a stage in a country town square, the accordion band struck up Edith Piaf’s bitter-sweet love song, La Vie en Rose. François Hollande, just elected France’s first Socialist president in 17 years, attempted a few steps of a waltz with his partner Valérie Trierweiler before she stepped back, perhaps realising they might look a little ridiculous on TV. “Kiss! Kiss!” demanded the crowd gathered in Tulle in Hollande’s rural powerbase of Corrèze. It was Trierweiler who had chosen the Piaf song, stock soundtrack of France, and who had asked the mayor to play it.

The music marked the return of the accordion to French politics, not seen since the faux-rustic former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing played it in the 1970s – an important message about Hollande’s rural, Mr Normal image. But it also showed the subtle importance of Trierweiler behind the scenes. Moments earlier, the political journalist – who began a relationship with Hollande after years covering the Socialist party for Paris Match magazine – had sat with him as he put the last touches to his victory speech. Hollande might have won the election by styling himself as the Ordinary Guy, a powerful political branding exercise, but it was Trierweiler who appeared to have coined the term, having described him as “the Normal Man” in a profile she wrote in 2004.

Prickly, protective of her private life and not averse to calling journalists to chide them for what she claims are errors – such as reporting that Hollande dyed his hair – Trierweiler has been dubbed “Tweetweiler” for tweeting her disapproval whenever she feels wronged by the media. She is now under intense scrutiny as France’s “first lady”. The position doesn’t officially exist in France or French protocol, but Sarkozy, who had two wives while he was in office – Cécilia Attias, followed by the former supermodel Carla Bruni – appears to have started a trend for partners appearing in the spotlight too.

If she keeps her job, Trierweiler could be revolutionary – the first president’s partner to hold down a salaried post. However, she will also have to tread the minefield of being a journalist while being partner of the president. Polls have shown French people overwhelmingly want her to keep working, and approve of her independence. But Trierweiler has also been the target of attacks that show, even in the post-Dominique Strauss-Kahn era, that French political life is saturated with sexism. When Lionnel Luca, a rightwing MP from Sarkozy’s party, called her “Rottweiler”, and then added it was “unfair to the dog”, Trierweiler said he should have been sanctioned by the head of parliament. A sports commentator was cut loose from his radio station this week for sending a tweet that read: “To all fellow women journalists: shag wisely, you could become the next first lady of France.”

Hollande, 57, a moderate, jovial, moped-riding Joe Average, is so much the anti-Sarkozy character, so far the opposite of the bling, frenetic outgoing president, that Carla Bruni recently warned he could mean the death of French journalism: “If my man gets beaten, what are you going to write about?” she asked a reporter. Yet Hollande’s personal life has been almost as complicated as the former president’s and the subject of cover stories for years. The challenge now is how to handle it.

Trierweiler, 47, has been a political reporter for Paris Match for decades, covering the Socialists – not only Hollande, who lead the party for 11 years, but his former partner and mother of his four children, the politician Ségolène Royal. Hollande and Royal were the great political power couple of France, described as more competitive than the Clintons, though they never married because they saw it as too “bourgeois”. Even in the 1980s, they began a blurring of the lines between private and public life, inviting cameras into their flat as their young children played or ate breakfast. In 1992, Royal, then a government minister, gave a controversial interview from a maternity ward, having just given birth to her youngest daughter. Trierweiler was the journalist who conducted it.

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0 replies

  1. The German President has a ‘partner’ to whom he is not married and now the French one as well. M. Hollande has 4 adult children from a former ‘partner’, with whom he was also not married.

    Can we now say that in Europe ‘Marriage is dead’?

    Let’s hope no one will complain about our ‘double-marriage’ (polygamy) (double responsibility).

    Of course we cannot expect any one to understand that we may take double responsibility when the Presidents of Europe do not even want to take single responsibility.

    They cannot take responsibility for one wife but want to take on responsibility for a whole nation.

    Strange world….

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