Emmanuel Macron has prompted a furore after saying that his government’s vaccination strategy is to “piss off” people who have not had coronavirus jabs by continuing to make daily life more and more difficult for them.
“I am not about pissing off the French people,” the president said in an interview with readers of Le Parisien daily on Tuesday. “But as for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And we will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy.”
Macron’s remarks came as the French parliament debated new legislation that, if passed, will mean only the fully vaccinated – and no longer those with a negative Covid test – will qualify for the country’s health pass from next month.
The pass, introduced this summer, is required in France for access to indoor public places such as cafes, restaurants, cinemas, museums, concert venues and sports centres, as well as to board long-distance trains and planes.
“In a democracy, the worst enemies are lies and stupidity,” Macron said. “We are putting pressure on the unvaccinated by limiting, as much as possible, their access to activities in social life.”
France has vaccinated almost 90% of its population who are eligible, Macron said, and it was “only a very small minority who are resisting. How do we reduce that minority? We reduce it – sorry for the expression – by pissing them off even more.”
The president, who said he wanted to run for a second term in presidential elections in April but would not make his decision public until “the health situation allows”, added that he was “not going to jail [the unvaccinated], or forcibly vaccinate them.”
So, he said, “we have to tell them: from 15 January, 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.”
Macron added: “When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.”
Macron’s political opponents accused the president – who in the early stages of his term faced accusations of arrogance, tactlessness and being out of touch from parts of the French population – of excessive language.
“No health emergency justifies such words,” said Bruno Retailleau, head of the right-wing Republicans in the Senate. “Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them.”
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, said a president “should not say such things”, adding that the language was “not worthy of the office”and that Macron was “turning the unvaccinated into second-class citizens.”
Others also criticised the proposed law. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the radical left France Insoumise party, called Macron’s language “appalling”, adding: “It’s clear the vaccine pass is a collective punishment against individual liberties.”
Analysts said that while the language was crude and could prompt an extreme, possibly violent reaction from anti-vaxxers, the president’s remarks appeared to reflect a careful political calculation.
Polls show a large majority of French voters are growing increasingly frustrated with the pandemic and back the vaccine pass as an effective means to end it, they said – and of those who oppose it, very few are likely to cast their ballot for Macron.