Who's the first lady? French want dithering leader to make up his mind

French President Francois Hollande answers a reporter during his annual news conference Jan.14, 2014, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. But Hollande couldn't answer whether girlfriend Valerie Trieweiler is still first lady. AP Photo

PARIS -- Do the math.

One French president: Francois Hollande -- with a stagnant economy he hasn’t been able to fix and with the lowest job-approval rating in modern history, in the 20 percent range.

One French first lady – or first girlfriend, as she's called here: Valerie Trierweiler, who has checked into the hospital because of the stress caused by Hollande’s alleged affair with …

One French actress, Julie Gayet: A Paris gossip magazine reports she received visits from Hollande, who traveled to her apartment incognito on a motor scooter.

 These were the issues President Hollande faced at his ritual New Year's new conference, which drew an overflow crowd. And where the first question was about the alleged affair – which he didn't deny.

"Everyone can face trials in their personal life," he said. "These are painful moments. But personal affairs should be treated privately."

He did promise that Trierweiler's status -- she has often been at state functions with him -- would be resolved before a trip to Washington next month.

The saga has tested the French myth that interest in politicians stops at the bedroom door, says American in Paris Danielle Grall.

"They're all totally humiliated," said Grall. "The elite French, the educated French – it's all totally humiliating for them. The feel like they’re living in Italy! And it's not very funny."

 Not funny for a politician, with a reputation for dithering, who is trying to sell his country on tough economic measures.

"Francois Hollande has a problem deciding which policy he wants. And he has problems deciding which women he wants," said TV anchorwoman Valerie Astruc.

Hollande may have stonewalled on his personal problems, preferring to deal with France's economic ones, but they're connected. To sell his polices he needs political strength.  And his current romantic drama isn't helping his image.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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