WASHINGTON — At first, the French were charmed by Brigitte Macron, the 64-year-old wife and former high school teacher of France’s new president, 23 years her junior.
But they are not sure they want her to have an official public role — complete with a title, an office, and a budget, all paid for by taxpayers.
By Monday, about 200,000 people had signed an online petition against Brigitte Macron being given an official role, a repeated desire of her husband. The petition is the latest blow to the president’s image, whose approval ratings have continued to fall over his dogged refusal to back down on budget cuts.
Although elected in a landslide in May, only 36 percent of French people now approve of their president, according to recent polls.
‘‘There is no reason for the wife of the head of state to get a budget out of public funds,’’ reads the petition’s text, written by Thierry Paul Valette, a writer, artist, and activist. Valette did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
During the presidential campaign this year, Emmanuel Macron frequently said that he wanted his wife to have an official, defined status as first lady, along with ‘‘a fully public role.’’
The spouses of presidents receive security guards, office space and a small staff — all of which is paid from the budget of the Elysee Palace. By contrast, creating any kind of official position for Brigitte Macron would require an additional and separate allotment of public funds.
The controversy has erupted in part because Macron has made ‘‘moralizing public life’’ such a central priority of his young administration.