The First Girlfriend

Ségolène Royale, center.Photo: au Peuple

Ségolène Royale, center.
Photo: au Peuple

She is always there in the pictures, shifted lightly. Whether she is just behind the President at the inauguration or with him greeting the French people of Washington before the G8 meeting, Valérie Trierweiler has become a major focus of French media since the election of François Hollande.

The French weekly magazine, L’express, devoted last week’s front page to her. They asked her about her role in the campaign and her place at the heart of power, but the article also contained many anecdotes mocking her severity.  The new first lady is a woman of character. Her silhouette has long occupied the hallways of the National Assembly and the headquarters of the political parties.

From a working class family, her colleagues describe her as professional, faithful and loyal, while her enemies criticize her cold nature and accuse her of pretending to be bourgeois. It was through her career that she met François Hollande, who was at the time dating Ségolène Royal, former Parti Socialist Presidential candidate.

In 2007, after Royal lost the election, she publically announced their separation. One year later, the future president gave hints of his love for Trierweiler at the Universtié d’été for the Socialist Party at La Rochelle. Since then, he has continued his political career and risen to power with her as a constant partner. According to rumors, they decided on his presidential candidacy together. She was also the one who realized that, in order to win the election, the future President needed to rebuild his image as a strong Presidential leader, taking on a role as a true advisor in some cases.

Her critiques have mocked her for both seeming weak and overly powerful, simultaneously. She has been ridiculed for being a constant presence at the President’s side, while also for her severity and personal ruthlessness. For example, she was scorned when she refused Julien Dray, a high-ranking member of the PS, access to the campaign headquarters after he invited Dominique Strauss Kahn to his birthday celebration which cast a bad image on the campaign. She does not hesitate to defend her integrity and her private life, as she did a few weeks ago when she tweeted messages to her journalist colleagues, urging them the street on which she lived.

Her ambition is to reinvent the role of the first lady retaining the maximum amount of independence. She confirmed that she did not intend to renounce her career as a journalist. “I plan on continuing, even while continuing to measure all the difficulties that will present themselves.” Trierweiler confessed in an interview with The Times, a British Newspaper, that she did not want to become a mere puppet of the President.

Political journalist by profession, her employers re-assigned her to cultural stories, covering literature, art, and music several months ago. Recently, she defended her objectivity and considered doing a series of interviews with leaders within the administration. While she was in the United States for the G8 Summit, the first lady confided her interest in pursuing a role as an ambassador for equal opportunity initiatives. “This is what interests me, it is the beginning, the children, the equality of chance.” This is common for the first lady of France, to take on an initiative such as this: Carla Bruni fought against AIDS, and Danielle Mitterand worked towards global access to water.

In between independence and protocol, Trierweiler is searching for her place in a role that is not clearly defined by precedent. To do this, she recruited a journalist and friend, Patrice Biancone to come to the Elysée. Without a doubt less glamorous for the magazines than Carla Bruni, first lady of this “normal” President seems to separate herself from Hollande’s chipper nature, instead she is content for the moment with observing and maintaining her regard as a journalist.

After her visit with Michelle Obama, praising the political importance of the American first lady, she declared “she is someone that has made the greatest impression on me in all my life. She has an incredible presence, a formidable charisma.” She commented that she received advice from Michele Obama, concerning her new role, one which she is still discovering how to balance with the rest of her life.

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