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Petition against French first lady gains momentum

Over 200,000 people have signed a petition against the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron being given a formal position as the country's first lady. This comes amid a rapid decline in the president's popularity.

The online petition on the platform change.org started two weeks ago, demanding that no public funds be set aside for the first lady role which Macron promised to create for his wife Brigitte on the campaign trail ahead of his victory in May.

Read more:  Brigitte Macron – The woman at his side

"Brigitte Macron currently has a team of two or three aides, as well as two secretaries and two security agents. That's enough," says the petition, which had collected 187,000 signatories by Monday.

The petition further stipulates that should the debate continue, the decision over Brigitte Macron's future in government should be put to a public referendum.

France has no official title of first lady ("première dame"); the spouse of the president plays only a courtesy role, mainly during official visits.

A question of funds

Thierry Paul Valette, the "politically committed" artist who launched the petition, said that the debate was "in no way questioning her competence" and distanced himself from the ageism and misogyny that has been directed at Macron's wife, who is 25 years her husband's senior.

Brigitte Macron (picture-alliance/abaca/C. Liewig)

Brigitte Macron has established a public image as a strong woman supporting her husband - but will she be given a bigger role?

Macron, 39, had vowed to create the position for his 64-year-old wife to clarify her status, while promising that her role would not be paid from public funds. The change.org petition meanwhile highlighted that the National Assembly passed a new law banning the hiring of family members as assistants among MPs following a series of corruption scandals. That statute, however, does not extend to the president and his spouse.

Far-left opponents of Macron in parliament have already protested against the plan for his wife to be officially named first lady, as the government has been cutting budgets.

Macron's popularity declining

Less than three months after his election, Emmanuel Macron has already seen his popularity drop after launching a divisive labor reform and engaging in a damaging dispute with the military.

Watch video 00:59

Macron party wins commanding majority

The question over the future role of his wife might add to that downward trend.

Opinion polls conducted last week showed the percentage of French citizens who said they were satisfied with Macron's policies to be plunging.

Lately, the young president's image has taken a hit due to a public dispute with the French military chief over budget cuts and his standoffish attitude towards the press.

France's Ifop polling agency said: "Apart from Jacques Chirac in July 1995, a newly elected president has never seen his popularity rate falling as quickly during the summer after the election."

While struggling at home, Macron has succeeded in raising France's diplomatic profile, hosting meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, and Libyan peace talks in Paris.

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