Are we going to see Emmanuel Macron sunbathing on a deckchair at Fort de Brégançon, in the heat of August? It’s unlikely. Between the impact of the Covid-19 health crisis and the prospect of the presidential election in less than nine months, the head of state should spend an active vacation. Not enough to decide, in short, with the presidential practice of the holidays since the beginning of the 21st century, as explained on Europe 1 Pierrick Geais, journalist and author of The Élysée at the beach: in the privacy of our Presidents on vacation (edition of the Rock).
Why do the Presidents’ vacations fascinate us so much?
It fascinates us because it is the moment when the border between private and public life of the President blurs a little. During his holidays, he stages himself with his family, with his wife, the first lady, who has a leading role during the presidential holidays, with his children and grandchildren. A bit like with a royal family, with the Windsors in the United Kingdom, everyone finds themselves in the President on vacation, because the President on vacation, he wants to be a Frenchman like any other on vacation.
These vacations have evolved. You say in particular that for Georges Pompidou, it was from July 14 to September 15. Today we can no longer imagine a President taking two months of vacation.
Yes, it was a month and a half vacation, he changed vacation locations three times in a month and a half. Besides, he was really taking a vacation. He had his aide-de-camp who brought him a few files to initial every other day. Georges Pompidou worked very fast, so it took him a few hours. But he took the time to make visits, to receive friends, to reflect, to write personal writings, poetry, memories. So it was a real vacation where the president took a step back on him, on his policy. He took the time to breathe and that changed a lot with the passage from the seven-year term to the five-year term.
Since the passage to the five-year term, the president has never been re-elected and the French consider that a president who has five years to implement his project, does not have time to breathe nor time to take a vacation. You imagine Mitterrand, 14 years in power, two seven years, like a king, almost. It was considered that he needed to take three weeks, a month, the summer, to take a step back on his policy.
In 1976, Jacques Chirac, then Prime Minister, was invited by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to Fort Brégançon. But the President of the Republic has also invited his ski instructor from Courchevel. It’s a real humiliation for Jacques Chirac, at the same level as the ski instructor. A few weeks later, moreover, he will leave Matignon.
We will also say that this episode in Brégançon precipitated his decision. It is the supreme humiliation, because he could not bear to be invited with the ski instructor who also had a beach in Saint-Tropez. In addition, the ski instructor had come in shorts with his wife who had come with a little short dress, not at all in evening dress. He had found it to be the ultimate humiliation. He said that Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, that day, sat on an armchair that looked like a throne while he was on a sort of chair, a stool. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing will deny this story but it ran in all the media at the time.
President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing left without saying anything to Africa, to hunt on safari. He was absolutely not reachable. It would be unthinkable today.
He always took advantage of an official trip to Africa in mid-July and then went on a safari for a week. He wanted his aide-de-camp to be 20 kilometers away from his camp. He didn’t want to be disturbed in any way, except if there really was a huge disaster. He spent a week hunting. He got up very early and he hunted all day. He absolutely wanted to kill a Derbi elk, which is Africa’s largest antelope. Can you imagine the scandal today? Already, at the time, it was a bit hidden. The media didn’t know too much.
François Mitterrand was perhaps the most mysterious with his sheepfold in Latche and his double life with Anne Pingeot in Gordes, in the Luberon. Were these moments of reunion between the two lovers?
Completely. François Mitterrand did not want to go to Brégançon, unlike his predecessors. He wanted to make this cut and so he made Latche, his sheepfold in the Landes, the official place of power, where he found his official family, ministers, dignitaries, foreign heads of state, as well as journalists too, who photograph him. Once the reporters left, he went to find his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and his daughter Mazarine, in Gordes, in the Luberon, where he had bought a very small house. They found themselves in that little family bubble where, again, he wanted no counsel, no bodyguard. In the Luberon we could see the president who was barely hidden. He wore a big hat and sunglasses. One wondered who the little girl was by his side because at the time, it was not known that he had an illegitimate little girl. But no more questions were asked. Again, you imagine today, with social media, it would be impossible.
Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, was rather uncomfortable on vacation. He wanted to look like a normal Frenchman and it worked pretty badly.
Jacques Chirac spent his first summer in Brégançon and his last summer in Brégançon. He had come down for a walk in a polo shirt and shorts. He wore dress shoes with big black socks. We could feel the awkwardness of Jacques Chirac’s communication, like when he had received Madonna for a concert at the Parc de Sceaux with a helmet on his ears and a hoodie. He wanted to be ‘French like the others’ but he couldn’t quite manage it.
Emmanuel Macron will be leaving in a few days for Brégançon for a ‘determined and focused’ vacation. It’s not really a vacation, is it?
No, Emmanuel Macron doesn’t really take a vacation. He leaves for three weeks in Brégançon but it is telework. It just changes the scenery. Today, we can no longer take vacation, that would not be accepted. Can you imagine a president who is photographed on a deckchair while there is a health crisis? It’s impossible. Emmanuel Macron will chair a health defense council during his vacation, will work from morning until evening and will certainly take the time for a little swim in the evening with the grandchildren of Brigitte Macron. But that will be all.