10 Jan 2014

French without tears at the Elysee Palace?

It might be assumed all too easily that the French public will dismiss the alleged affair between President Hollande and an actress. The grounds for this laissez-faire approach are well known: Francois Mitterrand, Hollande’s political mentor, fathered a daughter with his mistress when he was in the Elysee Palace. Presidential infidelity is certainly nothing new.

But this time it is different. This time there is no convenient cover-up, no conspiracy of silence involving the media: a  French magazine has splashed pictures of a sitting president allegedly travelling by moped to visit his alleged mistress – pictures which have gone around the world on the internet.

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What’s more Hollande is, according to the polls, the most unpopular French leader in modern history for his failure to tackle unemployment at around 11 per cent.

French voters may care less about the alleged affair than what it  might say about their president’s lack of focus on his main task of making the French economy grow. And it might add to the persistent narrative of presidential incompetence that the man who seduced the French public into voting for him is incapable of keeping his alleged private seduction secret.

Even if this scandal has no discernible effect on the president’s standing, it can hardly lift Hollande’s spirits for his private life to be considered fair game, when previous French leaders escaped such attention.

And what will the first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, make of it?  The partner the president has refused to marry has already shown what she is capable of; at one stage she openly backed a rival political candidate to Segolene Royal, Hollande’s first partner and the mother of his four children.

Trierweiler is a journalist herself. How she might respond to this alleged affair, having been Hollande’s mistress herself, could prove his biggest headache of all.

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