French President Emmanuel Macron raised eyebrows and provoked a fair amount of shock on Tuesday when he warned people in France not yet vaccinated against Covid-19 that he would annoy them by limiting access to key aspects of life in the country.
“I don’t want to piss the French people off… But as for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off (emmerder). And we will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy,” he told the Le Parisien newspaper in an interview.
He added that this would mean “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.
Macron’s verbal attack came as the government seeks to push through parliament legislation that will make vaccination compulsory to enjoy cultural activities, use inter-city train travel or visit to a cafe from January 15.
No longer will it be possible to have a recent test or a recovery from Covid to qualify for the country’s Covid pass.
But the government was incensed when the opposition joined forces on Monday to hold up the passage of the legislation through parliament.
Macron said: “I am not going to put them (the non-vaccinated) in prison, I am not going to forcibly vaccinate them.
“And so, we have to tell them: from January 15th, 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,” he said.
“When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible. An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen,” the president said.
Last summer Macron’s government implemented a health pass system that only allowed entry to bars, restaurants and other venues to those who were vaccinated, recovered or tested negative. The move was widely credited with helping push France’s Covid-19 vaccination rate to one of the highest in Europe.
The government wants to change the pass in January so it can only be used by those vaccinated.
Macron said he disagreed with the argument some have put forward that unvaccinated should be denied treatment in hospitals saying it would be unfair on medical staff.
It was Macron’s use of the French verb emmerder that provoked anger among French opposition politicians and a certain amount of surprise among political commentators in France. The verb can be translated on the softer side as “to bug” or “to annoy” but is more commonly translated in English to the informal “to piss off”. Literally the word in French means “to cover in shit” (merde) and is considered vulgar.
Macron, as he has done before, may have been referencing a famous quote by ex French president Georges Pompidou who said “Stop pissing off the French! (Arrêtez d’emmerder les Français) in an outburst over the number of new laws in the country.
Macron’s opponents accused the president, who in the initial phase of his time in office earned a reputation for sometimes tactless comments, of going too far with the language of his warning.
“No health emergency justifies such words,” said Bruno Retailleau, head of the right-wing Republicans in the upper house Senate.
“Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them. We can encourage vaccination without insulting anyone or pushing them to radicalisation”, he said.
Far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Twitter that Macron was “not worthy” to be president because of his choice of language which she later described in an interview as “vulgar and scandalous”.
“A president should never say that,” Le Pen said before accusing Macron of treating France’s unvaccinated as “second-class citizens”.
Far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon tweeted: “Does the president know what he’s saying? The WHO advises “convincing rather than coercing” (the unvaccinated). And him? “Piss them off”. Appalling.
Sources close to right-wing candidate for Les Republicans Valérie Pecresse said Macron’s words would “split the country when France had never been so divided”.
Twitter, as it so often does, was also home to much anger with the hashtag #MacronDestitution trending not long after the interview.
— Serge G Laurens - φ (@sergeglaurens) January 5, 2022
Macron wants to stand for re-election
In the same interview Macron said he wants to stand for a second term in April presidential elections but will only declare his intentions once he is sure.
“There is no false suspense. I want to,” Macron, the last of the major hopefuls in the election yet to declare their candidacy, told the paper when asked if he planned to stand.
“Once the health situation allows it and I have made everything clear — inside myself and with respect to the political equation — I will say what it (the decision) is.”
He added: “This decision is solidifying deep inside me. I need to be sure that I am able to go as far as I want.” [AKA, his ratings are such he doesn’t even know if a campaign is viable.]