Paris (CNSNews.com) – A campaign in France aimed at preventing President Emmanuel Macron from granting his wife official “first lady” status has gathered around 300,000 signatures.
“At a time when the State wishes to make savings in the budget of the army and wishes to moralize the political life, there arises a problem of national conscience,” wrote the authors of the petition on Change.org.
During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Macron declared that he wanted to “clarify” the status of the wife of the head of state, giving her an official role and separate budget, although without salary or compensation.
The initiative caused a furor in some circles.
“There is no reason for the president’s wife to be able to obtain a budget from public funds,” Thierry Paul Valette of anti-corruption group National Equality – who launched the petition – said in a statement.
“Brigitte Macron currently has a team of three assistants as well as security guards and this is enough,” he said.
The constitution does not provide for official status for the wife of the president of the republic, who can therefore fulfill her function the best way she chooses.
Like predecessors, Brigitte Macron has at her disposal an office, staff and a protection service, paid for out of the Elysée’s budget.
First ladies’ duties are numerous. Brigitte Macron answers numerous letters arriving each day, represents the president at some events, does charity works, and prepares state or official dinners hosted at the Elysée Palace. She is with the president when receiving heads of state and other official visitors.
First ladies do not get a salary. Budgets for their duties, like those of the president, are checked yearly by a special audit court.
The “companion” of former President François Hollande, Valérie Trierweiler, had a budget for her duties of 500,000 euros ($586,000) a year.
Before her, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni Sarkozy, spent 800,000 euros ($939,000) a year, having more assistants than Trierweiler’s.
Experts and commentators have criticized Macron’s proposal, especially questioning the move coming at a time when a new law is being drafted to prohibit lawmakers from giving work to their families.
During his campaign, Macron called for more transparency in political life, amid concerns that some lawmakers were giving work to relatives.
The French lower house of parliament is now discussing a “morality” law aiming at ensuring more transparency around the taxpayer financing of elected officials
During discussions on the legislation, members of the leftist Rebellious France movement failed to add an amendment to restrict drastically the role of the first lady and not give her a salary.
The controversy has arisen at a time when Macron’s popularity has fallen heavily, dropping from 43 percent in July to 36 this week. When first elected in May, Macron’s popularity ratings ranged between 59 and 64 percentage points.
Granting official status to the first lady would require the support of the House and Senate. While Macron would have a majority in the house, pushing the move would have risked a defeat in the Senate.
So the Elysée Palace has said in a statement that instead of requesting official status for the first lady, it will publish at the end of the month a transparency charter, which will lay out Brigitte Macron’s role, the number of staff she will have, and the cost.