PARIS - When François Hollande delivered his victory speech following his win in last Sunday's first round French presidential election, his new partner, Valerie Trierweiler, was there to support him. But on France's TV stations, there was another important woman in his life supporting him: Segolene Royal, his partner for nearly 30 years and the mother of his children.
It's been said that despite her numerous marriages, Liz Taylor only had one real love of her life: Richard Burton. Segolene and François may be heading down that same road. The two French politicians seem to be stuck with each other no matter what they do. And what they do is hardly ordinary: they've now each made the runoff as the Socialist candidate for the French presidency: Royal in 2007 and Hollande this time around. For their four kids, the Elysee palace is close. Their mother came very close to moving there in 2007 before losing to Nicolas Sarkozy. Their father may take up residence in the Elysee very soon.
There's something particularly French about this political partnership between a former non-married couple in which both partners were candidates to the presidency, as well as rivals in the same presidential race. Indeed, it's hard to imagine seeing this kind of spectacle elsewhere. In Great Britain, marriage and the picture of a united and happy family are prerequisites for political success. And in the United States, where marital hypocrisy is established as a system? Such a peculiar partnership would be unthinkable.
But in France, neither Royal nor Hollande believed their parental status could be seen as a liability for their presidential ambitions. As long as leaders meet a basic level of moral decency, their personal lives attract neither praise nor criticism. Being a good husband or a good father, qualities put forward by both Tony Blair and David Cameron in the United Kingdom, wouldn't bring any political benefit in France. Recently, France's incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, actually addressed his failure at keeping his now ex-wife Cecilia by his side during the 2007 campaign.
Not trying to be role models
In France, matters of the heart – and the body – are either a secret or a show. They only become a scandal when they cross the implicit limits of a mostly liberal code. In France's presidential runoff, both candidates have been wounded by love, and then cured – by the likes of Valerie and Carla. They aren't trying to be role models. Instead, they are building step by step life solutions that fit their needs – all under the watchful gaze of the French public.
If François Hollande becomes president, First Lady Valerie won't have the same last name. Another French exception. Her three children from a previous marriage will be part of the family dinners at the Elysee palace, along with Hollande's four with Royal.
Likewise, when Sarkozy was sworn in back in 2007, what the public saw was a modern family. His two sons from his first marriage were standing side-by-side with the two daughters Cecilia has from her marriage. The son they had together, Louis, stood with Cecilia. In 2012, Louis is now playing with Carla Bruni's son from a previous marriage and with the baby girl she had with Sarkozy.
France's presidential clan is no longer afraid to show that it's just like any other family: complicated, with wounds to heal, joy to share, and always struggling to make things work better.
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