When French President Francois Hollande arrives in the U.S. today he will be traveling alone and that makes things just a little complicated. For most Americans, Hollande is known not so much for being President of France, but for his highly publicized personal relationships. In France, such things are a bit different than they are here.
For one thing, the French are much less inclined to marry. In 1999, France enacted a kind of civil union called PACS that were supposed to provide gay couples with an alternative to marriage. Now, however, 94 percent of all PACS couples are heterosexual and more than half the children are born to unmarried couples.
Among those children are four belonging to Hollande and Segolene Royal, a socialist politician. At the time of his election, however, he was partnered with, Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist who has functioned as the French First Lady. Unfortunately, that relationship ended abruptly a few weeks ago when his supposed affair with actress Julie Gayet became public.
For the time being, Hollande does not have a partner, at least not officially. For the state dinner on Tuesday night, Hollande will arrive alone and that’s a complication. Hollande’s partner would normally sit next to President Obama.
Now, that seat at the table is vacant and filling it requires consultation with U.S. officials and their French counterparts. No doubt, even Obama will weigh in before the final decision is made. Whoever fills the seat will be carefully chosen with all issues of protocol carefully assessed and addressed.
Other complications are easier to handle. Hollande has expressed his anger about the alleged NSA spying on European leaders but talks on that issue are already underway and it is likely to be a minor part of the discussions between the two leaders.
Some things are not complicated at all. In an op-ed piece written jointly by Obama and Hollande, the two leaders celebrated a renewed alliance between the two countries that could not have been possible just a decade ago. Among their joint accomplishments, they listed working together with other partners to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and to pave the way for a plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
They also discussed joint efforts in Africa that ranged from helping to train and equip local security forces fighting insurgents linked to al-Qaeda to working with those who want to build democratic institutions, improve agriculture, and treat infectious diseases.
Finally, the op-ed piece outlines trade that supports jobs in both countries, partnerships between American and French universities and research groups, and efforts in both countries to combat climate change.
With the relationship between Obama and Hollande very positive and cooperative, the relationship between the two countries is also very strong.
For this visit, once seating arrangements are settled for Tuesday’s state dinner, the fact that Hollande arrived in the U.S. and is visiting alone is only a little complicated. Everything else is expected to go relatively smoothly, which is a nice bonus for two leaders who could use a little bump in their approval ratings.
By Sharon I. Fawley