The scandal continues, and embattled French President Francois Hollande’s annual new year’s press conference did absolutely nothing to bring any closure to the saga of the early morning croissant deliveries. Hollande did not even deign to acknowledge the disrepute that he is bringing on his nation during the text of his prepared remarks, and when asked about it during open questions he shot the line of questioning down.
The Guardian summarises the day’s happenings as well as anyone:
Asked in an exceedingly roundabout way whether Trierweiler was still the first lady, Hollande made clear his view that matters pertaining to his private life should be resolved in private, and said he would be taking no further questions on the subject (although he did promise to sort out his situation before his visit to Washington), and that was pretty much that.
There were one or two mild-mannered attempts to come at the question sideways, by asking about changes to France’s strict privacy laws, for example, and a brave bid by the Associated Press to come at it head on (“Does the president’s image matter?”). All received the same curt treatment.
The nature of the press conference revealed a couple of things to me – firstly, the huge deference shown by the local French press to their political leaders in any matters relating to personal behaviour and actions deemed to belong in the never-well-defined “private sphere”. Several commentators have already picked up on the fact that David Cameron or Barack Obama, embroiled in a similar scandal, could never have walked away from a set-piece press conference so unscathed. But what also shocked me was the unwillingness or inability of the foreign press, less beholden to the French political establishment for future favours and a good ongoing working relationship, to press home the lines of questioning. They had little to lose, but almost without exception they failed to follow up after Hollande declared the subject off-limits.
Still, if the French are content with their current arrangement whereby their politicians are free to engage in any manner of behaviour provided that it does not effect their performance in the day job, I suppose that this must be accepted, and the curiosity/outrage felt by many of us foreigners set aside. It is still my gut feeling that the supposed outrage of the French people at the invasion of Hollande’s privacy is partly a view expressed on their behalf by the elites who harbour skeletons of their own, but the polls suggesting that French attitudes toward Hollande remain unchanged are fairly conclusive.
I am glad to see that various media sources have finally started asking the question that I raised on this blog the same day that the story broke – namely, the implications for President Hollande’s security (and, by extension, the national security of the French republic) given the fact that he was taking off from the presidential palace incognito on the back of a scooter, unattended by any bodyguards during the night. As I said at the time:
Skulking around the capital city in the dark with limited protection, exposing oneself (and the secure, uninterupted governance of one’s nation) to any risk of kidnapping, physical harm, blackmailing or worse in the pursuit of a booty call, is probably not behaviour that voters would wish to see in a serving head of state. Transgressions which take place before taking office, honestly explained, atoned for and forgiven by the electorate, are one thing. Actively committing further such acts whilst in office is another matter entirely.
Three days later and the Telegraph picks up on this same concern, which if we are to have no expectations for how a head of state conducts him or herself in their private life is the only real area left for criticism.
Le Monde reported Monday that Mr Hollande had visited the apartment on the Rue du Cirque with two trusted police officers in tow and with another team providing extra security, about ten times since last autumn.
But Mr Valiela said security was so lax that the president’s bodyguards failed to spot the paparazzi who had been spying on the apartment and taking pictures of the president arriving and leaving on two occasions just before and after the start of the new year.
The security detail also apparently failed to inquire about who the flat belonged to.
Yikes. This is pretty much the worst case scenario that I had considered – the lean security team being unaware of paparazzi in the vicinity of the president, let alone any more serious threats. My point, I suppose, is that in accepting the office of president and the powers and responsibilities vested in that office, a person has a responsibility to refrain from endangering the continued exercise of those powers. I’m not suggesting for a second that the French president should follow the lead of the United States and travel around in the excessive pomp of an Obama motorcade, not for a second. But being the leader of your country and sneaking off virtually unprotected to consummate a secret relationship seems to be an either/or proposition. The two just don’t sit very well together, even leaving questions of dignity and decorum entirely aside.
The next chapter in the pointedly unquenched rumour mill is that Hollande’s alleged mistress may be pregnant, thus continuing another time-honoured French presidential tradition. The French president may come to regret his failure to tackle the stories swirling about his personal life head-on when he had the world’s full attention.