PARIS: Under pressure over a magazine report that he is having a secret affair with an actress, French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday he was going through “painful moments” but otherwise sidestepped specifics on his personal life.
Hollande’s partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when Closer published photos it said proved Hollande’s liaison with Julie Gayet. The report has heaped new pressure on the already unpopular Hollande.
He was asked following a major economic policy speech Tuesday whether Trierweiler remained the first lady. In his first comments since the magazine report, Hollande responded: “Everyone in his or her personal life can go through ordeals – that’s the case with us.”
Hollande said his “indignation is total” over the report, calling it a “violation that touches a personal liberty.” He did not say whether the report was true.
The latest revelations call into question whether a complex personal life can be private for someone with round-the-clock bodyguards and the role of “first lady” in France. Trierweiler is the first person to hold the post who is not married to the president.
Hollande said he would clarify who the first lady is before he takes a trip to the U.S. on Feb. 11, but he wouldn’t comment further. He said that state funds spent on the first lady should be made public – and “as small as possible.” The first lady doesn’t have formal status in France, but in practice they have an office in the presidential palace and small staff.
The pictures published in Closer included one of a man the magazine said was Hollande being ferried by motorcycle to an apartment where Gayet waited.
The issue even reached the floor of Parliament Tuesday. A leading legislator from the opposition conservative UMP party accused the president of taking unreasonable risks with his security.
“The president is not a normal citizen during his term. He is the chief of our armies. He is the keystone of our institutions. His protection should not suffer from any amateurism,” Jacob said in the National Assembly.
Asked whether his security was compromised, Hollande said:
“My security is assured everywhere, and at any moment. When I travel officially ... and when I travel on a private basis, I have protection that is less suffocating. But I am protected everywhere.”
Francois Rebsamen, a Socialist lawmaker who counts himself among Hollande’s friends, said the revelations showed the entire idea of a first lady was obsolete.
“ Francois Hollande himself said it at one point: You elect a person. And then this person can live alone, can be single, can live with another man or a woman. It’s no one’s business and it doesn’t come into play,” he told RTL radio Tuesday.
Dominique Moisi, a French political analyst, said Hollande – who was already the most unpopular president in modern French history – had brought the scrutiny on himself.
“He wanted to impress the French with the fact that he was a normal man, that he was a man of dignity, simplicity, moral rigor,” he said. “Suddenly, the French are discovering that he is like others, but in a less glorious manner, even a ridiculous manner.”