French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler may be courting controversy again.
The partner of President Francois Hollande is in informal talks about presenting a television show, prompting questions about whether that’s an appropriate role for her. Trierweiler stirred up a storm just a month after Hollande was elected in May by posting a Twitter message supporting the opponent of his ex-companion in regional elections. It prompted Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to publicly call on her to be more discreet.
Hollande, who’s struggling with an economy that hasn’t grown in three quarters, unemployment at a 13-year high and dwindling popularity in the polls, can’t risk having a partner whose public behavior is reproachable, said Bruno Cautres, a political analyst at Cevipof, a Paris-based research house.
“There’s a crisis and the French are starting to have doubts as to who Francois Hollande really is and what his plans are,” Cautres said. “He needs to regain control of his image. After the Twitter affair, Valerie Trierweiler no longer has the right to make a mistake.”
Relations between Trierweiler, Hollande, and Segolene Royal -- the president’s ex-partner, the mother of his four children and the Socialist presidential candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 -- have provided fodder for three recent books. The tense relations between the two women have also made it to the covers of several French magazines.
After the reign of Sarkozy, branded “President Bling Bling” for his Ray-Ban sunglasses, his high-profile vacations and his marriage while in office to model and singer Carla Bruni, Hollande had promised to take the presidency back to the way it has been in France by keeping his private life just that -- private.
Controversies surrounding Trierweiler, who is a journalist for weekly magazine Paris Match, has made that difficult.
“Hollande built his campaign and his identity on the image of a normal guy,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at Institute of Political Studies in Paris. “We were convinced that, unlike Sarkozy, he would have respected the line that separates public and private life, a tradition the French are attached to, going back to the time of General De Gaulle.”
Trierweiler’s action wouldn’t be “an accident,” he said. “It’s not a simple mistake in behavior; it’s a real political error.”
The First Lady is in negotiations with Canal Plus, France’s largest pay-TV station, to present a show to be broadcast every two months, Europe 1 reported yesterday on its website.
A Canal Plus official confirmed talks are being held, without providing details. According to the official, the talks with Trierweiler, which took place over the past months, are at an informal level and are the consequence of Canal Plus’s purchase of Direct 8, another TV channel, where the First Lady also did some work.
A spokesman for Trierweiler at the Elysee presidential palace declined to give additional information on her plans for a possible show.
“We have nothing to add to what Canal Plus said,” Patrice Biancone, the spokesman, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “No decisions have yet been made.”
Canal Plus will reach out to Trierweiler again in the coming weeks, the TV company official said.
Hosting a show would expose Trierweiler to intense scrutiny, with her pronouncements likely to be weighed for presidential significance.
Her Twitter message on June 12 led to “a mess worthy of the best psychodramas during Sarkozy’s time,” the left-leaning Liberation newspaper wrote on June 13 in an editorial.
The daily’s front page that day featured a picture of Trierweiler, with the headline “The First Gaffe of France.”
“We now know that Hollande’s normal presidency isn’t that normal after all,” the editorial said.
The First Lady’s public endorsement of the candidate running in the legislative elections against Royal drew the disapproval of 69 percent of the French, according to a Harris Interactive poll for Gala magazine published on June 15.
The message later disappeared from her Twitter account. She has made only rare appearances with Hollande since.
As her possible TV-presentation talks surfaced, questions emerged again about how much Hollande is able to control what she does.
“The impression is that he has trouble affirming himself, that there is a lack of authority,” Dubois said. “It’s particularly problematic, because Hollande has in the past been labeled a ‘marshmallow’. This could have a boomerang effect on his political image.”
Only 46 percent of voters now have a positive opinion of Hollande, down 15 points since the end of June, according to a BVA poll of 1,044 adults published this week.
“Had times been different, the French would have dismissed this as an adventure similar to those taking place during the monarchy,” Dubois said. “Here it’s Hollande’s authority that’s been brought into question, his incapacity to put his partner in her place. He can’t allow her to do whatever she wants.”