James Evans discusses the French media’s reaction to President Hollande’s affair.
Strange things are happening in France: the media is in a frenzy of speculation over the private life of its president. What is odd about the situation is not the fact that the president may be having an affair, but the level of interest and concern about him doing so. Former French president François Mitterand was well known for his affairs and even had an illegitimate daughter with Anne Pingeot in 1974. None of this appears to have affected his political career, which included fourteen years (21st May 1981 to 17th May 1995) as president. The French reputation for a relaxed attitude towards extra-marital liaisons was captured in the Act 2 finale of Gustav Lehar’s 1905 operetta ‘The Merry Widow’, in which the female leads extol the virtue of having an open marriage, living ‘á la Parisienne’.
Not only is it strange in the context of France’s political history for allegations of an affair between the president and actress Julie Gayet to cause such a brouhaha; Hollande’s acknowledged history with women makes it even stranger. He never married the mother of his four children, Ségolène Royal; nor has he ever married Valérie Trierweiler, currently installed as France’s First Lady. A decision to leave one mistress and take up with another would seem somewhat less radical in this context. But in a sense, Hollande has inflated the headlines through his determined silence. Loquacious in all other regards, he refused to put an end to the speculation by making a statement about the matter in his New Year press conference. Perhaps this was out of consideration for the condition of Ms Trierweiler, recently admitted to hospital suffering from ‘the blues’.
In a sense, Hollande has inflated the headlines through his determined silence.
If allegations of infidelity centred around one of the British party leaders, it would be a major news story. The interest in Mr Hollande’s private life may be the sign of a closer alignment of British and French political culture. French polls, however, show this issue up for the bagatelle that it is amongst his general public. The president’s ratings overall appear largely unchanged; unfortunately for him, this means he remains, in the words of Euronews, ‘one of the most unpopular presidents France has ever known’.