France’s President Emmanuel Macron has sparked outrage after using divisive, vulgar language to say he wanted to make life difficult for unvaccinated people.
He told Le Parisien newspaper: “I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this – to the end.”
Three months ahead of a presidential election, opponents of President Macron said his words were unworthy of a president.
French lawmakers halted debate on a law barring the unvaccinated from much of public life.
The session in the National Assembly was brought to a standstill for a second night running on January 4 as opposition delegates complained about the president’s language, with one leading figure describing it as “unworthy, irresponsible and premeditated”.
The legislation is expected to be approved in a vote this week, but it has angered vaccine opponents.
Mandatory vaccinations are being introduced in several European countries, with Austria leading the way for over-14s from next month and Germany planning a similar move for adults. Italy’s government was on January 5 considering a compulsory vaccine pass for at least anyone over 60.
In his interview with Le Parisien on January 4, President Macron used the vulgar term emmerder to say how he wanted to stir up the unvaccinated. He would not “vaccinate by force” the remaining five million who had not had a dose, but hoped to encourage people to get the vaccines by “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.
He said: “I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison.
“So we need to tell them, from January 15, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
Ahead of a presidential election campaign in which Emmanuel Macron is yet to announce his intention to run, his remarks prompted a strong reaction from opposition figures.
Right-wing Republicans candidate Valérie Pécresse said she was outraged that the president had accused unvaccinated people of not being citizens.
“You have to accept them as they are – lead them, bring them together and not insult them,” she told CNews.
Party colleague Bruno Retailleau said pointedly: “Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them.”
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted: “A president shouldn’t say that… Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”
Meanwhile, leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon described the remarks as an astonishing confession: “It’s clear, the vaccination pass is a collective punishment against individual freedom.”
The latest opinion gave President Macron the edge over his rivals on January 5, with 27% of votes in the first round on April 10, ahead of Valérie Pécresse and Marine Le Pen both on 16%. The poll for Le Figaro/LCI also gave him a run-off victory, with the closest margin of 55%-45% with the Republican candidate.
Emmanuel Macron’s choice of language is not unprecedented for a French leader.
The same word was used by Georges Pompidou in 1966 when he said it was time to stop annoying the French. Like him, Emmanuel Macron said his role was not to irritate the French, but the unvaccinated was a different story.
PM Jean Castex told parliament later that people everywhere were saying the same as the president. “Our citizens have a sense of exasperation seeing a whole kind of restrictions imposed while others choose to break free of them.”
France has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the EU, with more than 90% of the adult population double-jabbed.
For months France has asked people to show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to access many public venues.
However, the French government wants to remove the option to show a negative test in response to record increases in infections, driven by the highly contagious Omicron and Delta variants of Covid.
On January 5, France reported 332,252 new daily Covid cases – the highest number of daily infections recorded in the country since the start of the pandemic.