"Like a scene from a Woody Allen film." That was the reaction from the French press Thursday after President François Hollande publicly dodged his former partner, Ségolène Royal, who also happens to be a Socialist Party (PS) colleague and the mother of his four children.
Hollande and Royal were visiting the UN headquarters in New York, but not for the same reason. Royal was attending an international Socialist meeting as a delegate for the PS party; Hollande was there for the General Assembly. With reporters crammed into the entrance hall quizzing arrivals as they entered the building for their respective gatherings, Royal and Hollande found themselves pretty much in the same room.
"Aren't you going to say hello?" a reporter asked Royal, as she peered over at the hovering mass in the lobby, in the centre of which could be seen Hollande's bald patch, which was now turned firmly towards her.
Her answer was befuddled – of course she would say hello "if procedure allowed it," but... he was here to prove "great responsibilities"... and besides – stammering now – he "wasn't here for show... Or perhaps I should say hello anyway!" she finally exclaimed. But it was too late. Hollande and his entourage had already shuffled off, supposedly in order to give the president "more time to think about Mali" before the General Assembly. So much for making a grand entrance.
Aside for feeling sorry for Royal (I have to admit it), the biggest loser here was Hollande. He should have quickly and confidently said hello to Royal, then ignored the inevitable newspaper photos the following day. Yes, there will always be some interest in their relationship – they were together for decades and have four (grown-up) children; their break up was messy and politically implicated. But they are also two high-profile politicians attending high-profile meetings in New York – it's not such a big deal.
Instead, Hollande ended up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The president of France was too flustered to greet his ex in public? So what was behind this Woody Allen-esque scenario?
You don't need to look far. Hollande's overbearing partner, Valérie Trierweiler, has made no secret of her dislike for Royal, turning green at the mere sight of her lover's ex.
Dubbed "the Rottweiler" by French tabloids and "the first bitch" by meaner members of the public, Trierweiler has nothing to lose concerning her own popularity. But does Hollande want to be tarnished with the same brush?
As Bruno Roger-Petit, a political commentator for the Nouvel Observateur, pointed out: "A PR aide should have turned to Hollande and told him that greeting his former partner was worth an awkward moment with his current girlfriend [...] to avoid a political embarrassment."
Instead, he looked like a bungling fool whose girlfriend dictates who he is and isn't allowed to speak to. Hardly reassuring for a man who is supposed to be running the country...