The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing a people’s revolt against plans to give his wife an official “first lady” role.
More than 150,000 people have signed a petition against the move that would give Brigitte Macron an office, staff and an allowance from the public purse.
The rebellion comes as Macron’s popularity continues to plummet. Polls last month showed he had dropped seven percentage points with only 36% of French people saying they were happy with their new leader. At the same period in their mandate Macron’s predecessors François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy were at 56% at 66% respectively.
During his presidential campaign, Macron promised to “clarify” the role of the French president’s wife by giving them an official status, describing the current situation as a “kind of French hypocrisy”.
Neither the French constitution nor accepted protocol gives the president’s partner an official status, leaving them to create a role as they see fit. They are allowed an office, staff, security guards paid for out of the Elysée budget and estimated by the official auditors at around €450,000 (£406,000) a year.
Creating an official title would create a separate budget for the president’s partner. The plan has struck a particularly discordant note in France coming as Macron prepares to force his “morality” law, banning parliamentarians from employing wives and family members.
The artist and author Thierry Paul Valette, who is behind the petition, said: “There is no reason why the wife of the head of state should be given a budget out of public funds. At present, Brigitte Macron has two or three assistants as well as two secretaries and two security staff, and that’s enough.”
Valette said any decision should be made by referendum and not presidential decree.
“It’s for the French people and no other to decide who represents them. However, more than 65% are against the creation of a special status for Brigitte Macron.”
He added that the petition was not a personal assault on Madame Macron or her abilities and “ferociously criticised all sexist attacks” on the first lady.
“That said, at a time when French public life is being moralised, at a time when a decree banning MPs from employing members of their family is being voted … we cannot decently approve of an initiative giving President Macron’s wife a specific status.”
On Friday, Daniel Fasquelle of the centre-right Les Républicains party said Macron was paying for his inexperience.
“He’s not up to the job, either in his behaviour or in addressing the issues. We are seeing promises not being kept, hitches, flip-flopping …”
Neither Joachim Sauer, husband of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, nor Philip May, Theresa May’s husband, have any recognised role.
In America, under a 1978 law, the first lady, Melania Trump, has a team of 12 staff and an official status.
Macron may decide he has bigger political fish to fry. Opponents are gearing up for widespread protests over his government’s labour law reforms in September, when France returns to work after the long summer break.