The French president’s remarks came on the final day of the annual meeting of the Group of Seven leaders in Biarritz, France, where the subject of raging fires in the Amazon had led to criticism of the Brazilian government and a pledge by world leaders to start a $20 million fund to help protect the rainforest.
Bolsonaro, once a fringe politician who came to power in elections last year after appealing to nationalist sentiment, has called the international criticism of his government by European nations a reflection of a “colonialist mentality."
But the Brazilian president pushed the political dispute into personal territory Sunday, when he appeared to endorse a meme from a supporter that compared the appearance of the French first lady, 67, with Brazil’s first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, 37.
On Saturday, a supporter of the Brazilian president posted a photograph of the two world leaders and their wives on Bolsonaro’s official Facebook page, with a comment that suggested Macron was jealous of Bolsonaro.
In response, Bolsonaro responded with laughter and wrote: “Do not embarrass the guy.”
The comment quickly went viral in both the French and Brazilian media, with widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s remarks. Felipe Neto, a popular Brazilian comedian, called the remarks disgusting and pathetic.
French news agency Agence France-Presse reports that a spokesman for Brazil’s presidential palace declined to comment on whether Bolsonaro had written the response himself.
Speaking on Monday, Macron said: “So, I myself believe Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that from their president. I believe the Brazilian people, which is a great people, are a bit ashamed of those kind of behaviors.
“I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope they will very soon have a president that acts like one.”
Michelle Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president’s third wife and his former parliamentary secretary, is 27 years younger than her husband, who is 64. The age differences are roughly reversed in the French president’s relationship, where 41-year-old Emmanuel Macron is 24 years younger than his wife, his former teacher, Brigitte.
Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a member of parliament who has been touted as a potential Brazilian ambassador to the United States, also took aim at the French president in recent days, sharing a video on Twitter last Thursday that called Macron an idiot and writing on Sunday that the French president was desperate for popularity.
Quentin Ariès in Brussels contributed to this report.