Recently, it became public that French President François Hollande has been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet for two years. The news reached the headlines of reputable international and European papers and websites such as the BBC and LA Times. Public opinion in France’s neighbouring countries was judgemental to say the least. Surprisingly, the French themselves were rather laconic about the case.
The indifference of the French public is not difficult to understand, as they have known an entire history of cheating Presidents. According to a research carried out by The Guardian, every president to have held power in France since 1973 has been rumoured to cheat on their wife. Francois “Seducer” Mitterand was the first one with his daughter out of wedlock, Mazarine Pingeot, followed by Jacques Chirac almost publicly admitting having had several extra-marital relations. Next in line was Nicolas Sarkozy, dating model and actress Carla Bruni, whilst still being married to Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz. To not fail traditions, Hollande apparently decided Julie Gayet would be a good mistress.
Notwithstanding, all the public international uproar arising when the recent scandal came out, certainly creates the opportunity to think about a wider debate. Do we tolerate adultery from someone holding a public position? Some people are of the opinion that such a deed leads to the destruction of one’s legitimacy and should be followed by immediate resignation as the person in question is no longer to fulfilling its task as a public example.
Perhaps a more familiar example presented itself to the Netherlands when married Dutch mayor of Maastricht, Onno Hoes, was caught on camera kissing a young man in a hotel, which afterwards appeared not to be the first extra-marital adventure the mayor had encountered. Again, the Dutch public found this unacceptable considering his position.
However, wouldn’t it more reasonable to think a little bit more in the lines of the French, leaving it to: C’est son affaire a lui! – It’s his private business! Modern democracies have always portrayed themselves as fierce advocates of individual liberties. However morally wrong adultery might be, in some way it pushes public figures of their pedestal and gives them a dimension of humanity, which can be seen as actually increasing their public legitimacy. We are represented by a human being just as susceptible to mistakes and temptations as we are. A human being that is able to place himself in the shoes of those he exercises power over, being a leading principle when making and enforcing policies.
So perhaps when German chancellor Angela Merkel announces to have been involved in an enduring and passionate affair for years with Leonardo diCaprio, we should leave her position as head of state out of the discussion when judging her.