French president Macron wants to give a role to his wife

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PARIS (AP) — After more than three years without a first lady, the French don't appear to be very eager to get a new one.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to formalize the role of his wife Brigitte, but critics say that would be too costly. The president's office is preparing a formal communication in coming days, Brigitte Macron's office said Tuesday.

During his presidential campaign, the 39-year-old outspoken centrist promised more "transparency" on the issue.

Unlike in the U.S., France's first lady doesn't have an official status.

As the president's popularity drops in polls, more than 280,000 people have signed a petition in the past few weeks against Macron's plan to grant a formal budget to finance his wife's activities.

"There's no reason why the spouse of the head of state would get a budget from public funds," the petition says.

However the petition isn't pushing to get rid of Brigitte Macron's existing office and staff. It says her current setup — an office at the Elysee palace, two advisers, two secretaries as well as bodyguards — is "sufficient" and she shouldn't need an official budget or money for special activities.

It's not yet clear exactly what the president wants the first lady's role to be. His plan isn't to change the French Constitution or make a bill to give official status to his wife, but to publish a charter that would detail her public role, her staff and the cost to the French taxpayer, an official in Brigitte Macron's office told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity.

No estimation has been given of the cost of Brigitte Macron's current office or any potential changes.

The status of the president's partner is a sensitive issue in France following a series of scandals in the past few decades, including Macron predecessor Francois Hollande's complex private life.

Hollande entered office with his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at his side, but she left him after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande's secret affair with actress Julie Gayet in January 2014.

The French got used to the absence of a first lady: Gayet never publicly appeared by Hollande's side.

Before him, Sarkozy was the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office.

His former wife, Cecilia, had a prominent role at his side. The couple divorced in the first year of his term. Sarkozy then remarried, to supermodel Carla Bruni.

But the major scandal remains the one surrounding Francois Mitterrand, president from 1981 to 1995. Mitterrand had a secret family made up of his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and their daughter, who lived in a state-owned apartment in Paris.

Macron once said he wants to end "French hypocrisy" about the status of presidential spouses. The person living with the president "must be able to play a role and be recognized for that role" but wouldn't be paid for it, he said before his election.

Macron created an inseparable team with his wife Brigitte during his presidential campaign, something more often seen on American political stages than in France.

Brigitte Macron, 64, a former teacher at Emmanuel Macron's high school, attended most of her husband's rallies. The president doesn't hide that she is also his close political adviser.

Lawmaker Clementine Autain, from the far-left movement France Insoumise, called the idea of giving official status to the first lady "stupid."

"I'm sorry, but there's no need for a status of first lady in a democratic, modern, 21st-century system," she told BFM television.