A lot of noise for nothing: Macron has given his wife the most pointless formal status

Big news: nothing has changed.

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The Elysée palace has important news: Brigitte Macron, the wife of youngest-president-since-Napoleon Emmanuel Macron, will carry out organisational responsibilities and support charities during her husband’s term. This is completely new and not at all exactly what Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Bernadette Chirac or Danielle Mitterrand did before her.

A charter defining Brigitte’s missions of “representation” and “supervision” was published by the Elysée on Monday. It details her status, which is “not a legal status but a commitment, is only valid for Brigitte Macron during Emmanuel Macron’s mandate, and will not be constraining for his successors or their partners.” Her role will include attending meetings and international summits with the president, answering to requests and mail from the French people, supervising official parties at the Elysée, supporting events and charity work for education, health, culture and gender equality.

It is a big deal in that it's the first time in modern French politics that a text outlines a president’s partner’s duties – but it’s not exactly what Macron intended. During the campaign, he promised to “end a French hypocrisy” by creating a legal status for the president’s wife: “She will have a role, she will not be hidden, because she shares my life."

But a petition this summer proved this particular pledge had many detractors: 300,000 people signed to stand “against a First lady status for Brigitte Macron.” They opposed the creation of a special team and the the allocation of funds for the president’s wife at a time when parliament is working on a “moralisation of politics” law that will prevent MPs from hiring family members.

“The French state isn’t an all-powerful monarchy,” the petition’s creator told French TV.

To give Brigitte Macron a legal status would have meant reforming the constitution, so the new status was introduced as charter - a text published by the government that effectively has no legal standing. Although the aim – to make the role of the president’s wife more transparent – is a welcome initiative, practically, this is what the French would call “beaucoup de bruit pour rien” (“a lot of noise for nothing”).

Brigitte Macron’s official team will be composed of two presidential consultants and of a secretary, the charter states - ie exactly the number of people in her team before the whole thing became a public debate. There will be no budget allocated specifically to her duties as funds will be taken from the President's own. (Costs related to her functions will be overseen by the country’s revenue court.)

In her first interview since her husband’s election, Brigitte Macron said: “What is important is that everything is clear: like the ones who preceded me, I will accept my public role, but the French people will now know the means that are made available to me.”

The Elysée palace has important news: The president has a wife and she will do almost exactly what the last one did.

Pauline Bock is a New Statesman contributing writer based in Brussels. She writes about Brexit, the EU, France and the Macron presidency. 

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