In France there is no official title of First Lady, although Première Dame has in recent years slipped into the language, and officially the President’s wife (in Hollande’s case his partner, as they are not married) has no role.
Before Hollande’s election, Trierweiler let it be known that she intended to remain a journalist (though no longer specialising in politics) and that she would not simply be a passive, decorative wallflower.
She declared flatly that she had “a strong character” and this week she let rip.
It’s unclear why she sent her tweet - those who claim to know her well suggest she is fiercely jealous of Ségolène Royal and still feels threatened by the woman who was Hollande’s partner for 27 years before their separation in 2007.
Some insiders say Trierweiler had a row with François Hollande after he failed to tell her he had agreed to Royal’s request for an official endorsement of her candidacy against a dissident Socialist in the La Rochelle constituency she hopes to win in Sunday’s parliamentary election, but looks certain to lose.
To spite them both, one of Trierweiler’s close friends told Anna Cabana in Le Point magazine, Trierweiler fired off her nuclear tweet in support of Olivier Falorni, the dissident rival.
Whatever the reason, Ségolène said in an interview in Thursday’s Libération newspaper that she did not react immediately because she was stunned by the “violent” nature of the tweet.
Socialist party bigwigs and activists are furious that such division at the heart of the party has been exposed anew, and that key campaign issues ahead of Sunday’s vote have been completely overshadowed by the row.
In an unprecedented rebuke to a President’s partner, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault publicly invited Trierweiler to show more discretion.
Hollande himself, who once famously said “if you simply ignore a conflict, it will eventually disappear” has remained ostentatiously silent.
Does it all matter?
It matters because it damages President François Hollande’s carefully cultivated image…
The French Left and supporters in the media spend five years condemning Nicolas Sarkozy for revealing too much of his personal life. They criticised him for dragging the nation into an “unseemly soap opera” - his on-off relationship with Cecilia and his subsequent whirlwind romance with his now-wife Carla Bruni.
Now Hollande seems to be at the centre of what one right-wing politician on Tuesday gleefully dubbed “Dallas”, the ultimate soap opera;
Hollande’s carefully choreographed campaign and first days in office, designed to promote the idea of a straightforward, “normal” “modest” guy, who would “restore dignity to the office” has exploded as the two women in his life have a public catfight.
It matters because Hollande spoke endlessly about how he was going to “unify” a France left “divided” after five years with Sarkozy at the reins. Some are now asking how he can unify France if he cannot even stop Ségolène and Valérie from tearing each other apart?
It matters because, as Le Figaro reports today, a senior unnamed Socialist sighed today “Valérie will become a millstone for him….She is creating an image for herself as the most hated woman in France.”
What happens now?
“At the very least, she should close her twitter account. This must stop” said a member of the government who did not wish to be named. Constitutional experts point out that she is no longer just an ordinary working woman, and that Michelle Obama’s twitter account is subject to some controls.
Trierweiler and President Hollande do not live in the Elysées Palace, so French taxpayers cannot grumble that if she is living in state-owned accommodation, she must accept some restrictions on her liberty.
But Trierweiler, in line with her predecessors, has an office at the Elysées and a small staff, to help reply to letters.
René Dosière, a specialist in the financing of the French state, says “Valérie Trierweiler? She should be paid. We should create a job for her, with a salary, and as a trade-off, a duty not to express herself freely in public. Her problem of needing financial independence in order to look after her three sons would then be solved without her needing to work as a journalist.”
The immediate political consequences are hard to judge.
Its possible (though with the polls showing Ségolène at 42 per cent and rival Olivier Falorni at 58 per cent, unlikely) that Ségolène Royal will enjoy a wave of sympathy after Trierweiler’s unhelpful intervention. Women, in particular might feel inclined to vote for a woman who lost her own bid for the presidency in 2007 only to see her partner set up with someone else and go on to become president himself.
Before the tweet, most in the Socialist party were agreed that once elected, Ségolène would be rewarded for her exemplary support for Hollande during the presidential campaign, with the post she wants, President of the National Assembly.
Even if she does win, it now appears less likely that she will be given this job, because she has been so compromised by the tweet affair.
In any case many right-wing voters intend to vote for Falorni to ensure that Ségolène is beaten. They want a huge totemic prize to compensate for Sunday’s probable poor showing in the ballot box.
And if she loses, ‘Hell hath no fury…’ Hollande won’t know what has hit him.