French president-elect's domestic status a yawn for tolerant French

French president-elect Francois Hollande, left, embraces his companion Valerie Trierweiler after greeting crowds gathered to celebrate his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France handed the presidency Sunday to leftist Hollande, a champion of government stimulus programs who says the state should protect the downtrodden - a victory that could deal a death blow to the drive for austerity that has been the hallmark of Europe in recent years. Sipa via AP Images

French president-elect Francois Hollande, left, embraces his companion Valerie Trierweiler after greeting crowds gathered to celebrate his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France handed the presidency Sunday to leftist Hollande, a champion of government stimulus programs who says the state should protect the downtrodden - a victory that could deal a death blow to the drive for austerity that has been the hallmark of Europe in recent years.
French president-elect Francois Hollande, left, embraces his companion Valerie Trierweiler after greeting crowds gathered to celebrate his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France handed the presidency Sunday to leftist Hollande, a champion of government stimulus programs who says the state should protect the downtrodden - a victory that could deal a death blow to the drive for austerity that has been the hallmark of Europe in recent years.
Sipa via AP Images

(CBS News) PARIS - As the world adjusts to a France without Nicolas Sarkozy, scrutiny turns to president-elect Francois Hollande and his domestic partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler. The couple have been living together since 2007 and have no intention to get married in the short term, which means Trierweiler can not technically be referred to as France's First Lady.

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Sacre bleu! A domestic arrangement that is inconceivable by U.S. presidential standards is perfectly normal in France, says CBS Radio correspondent Elaine Cobbe, from Paris. Here is her take on the matter, below:

The French are among the least keen on marriage in Europe. They enter into marriage in smaller numbers than in the US. They also tie the knot later - the average French bride or groom is 30 years old at their (first) wedding.

In 2011, 46.2% of the population over 15 was married. Some 38.4% was listed as single, but that would also include those who have a civil partnership or a legal union - both of which are quite popular with the French. The others were 7.6% widowed and 7.8% divorced (and not remarried).

Most French people have no problem with the couple not being married. But Hollande is likely to find out very quickly, just as Sarkozy did, that other countries are not so tolerant. Just three months after meeting Carla Bruni, Sarkozy married her, partly because several countries made it clear that a president could not be accompanied by a First Lady who was not his wife.

The situation was complicated by the fact that when he took office in 2007, Sarkozy had a wife, Cecilia. But the couple divorced five months after he became president. They had each had another partner and it was understood that Cecilia made it clear she was not willing to stay married to him. Carla is his third wife.

Hollande and Trierweiler have said they won't rush into marriage and she insists on being called his "companion". Technically, she can't be called First Lady if they're not married.

Hollande met Valerie Trierweiler in 2006. A year later, he split from his partner of 30 years and mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, to be with her. Royal was the Socialist candidate in the presidential election in 2007, where she was defeated by Sarkozy. No one batted an eyelid that she and Hollande were not married - they were a recognized family unit and a strong political partnership for most of their time together.

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In France, private lives of politicians are rarely talked about in public. And strict privacy laws mean the press can't reveal much of what is often well-known in political and media circles. President Francois Mitterrand had a second family that remained a secret from the wider public until just before his death. The 2007 election put the spotlight on the private lives of both candidates in a way that was controversial and that many French people found distasteful.

The French have long been tolerant of mistresses and lovers. The attitude is very much that what happens between consenting adults is their own business. Where they're becoming less tolerant is with the kind of wholescale philandering indulged in by some, such as revealed in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. While he still garners quite a bit of sympathy in France, and many remain dubious about the extent of the chambermaid's claims, there has been a clear questioning of the former IMF chief's moral values and sexual appetite. But it's worth noting that his wealthy, attractive, intelligent journalist wife has stood by him throughout.

In general, France is such a very secular country that there's no big religious push to marriage.

  • Elaine Cobbe

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