Macron tries to force anti-vaxxers to give up

French president makes it difficult to enjoy life for those without a Covid pass

Spectators at the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées on Wednesday must present a health pass certifying that they are either fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have tested negative for the virus this week or have antibodies from a past infection.

The requirement, like President Emmanuel Macron's speech on Monday night, is a foretaste of life in France for months to come. Macron wants to make things so difficult for anti-vaxxers that they give up. Healthcare workers not vaccinated by September 15th will lose their jobs. Health passes will be required at cultural and entertainment venues from July 21st, and to enter cafes, restaurants, shopping centres and transport from August 1st.

Julien Aubert, a parliamentary deputy from the conservative party Les Républicains, said extensive use of the health pass amounts to de facto compulsory vaccination of the entire population.

The far right-wing leader Marine Le Pen called the new Covid regulations "a serious deterioration of individual freedoms" and labelled Macron's stated intention to reform the pension system "the liquidation of our system of social protection".


Jean-Frédéric Poisson, who heads a small Christian-democratic party, denounced Macron’s “liberticide delirium and election campaign demagogy”.

Such statements could backfire. A poll published by Le Figaro on Tuesday indicates that 67 per cent of the French support the main measures announced by Macron. Resistance to vaccination has declined – from 58 per cent last December to 30 per cent in April, according to the Statista website.

Accepting constraints

A population weary of curfews and lockdowns now appears willing to accept constraints in exchange for a degree of normality.

“I solemnly appeal to all our unvaccinated compatriots to go out and get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Macron exhorted the French. “Nine million doses are waiting for you . . . Get vaccinated! It’s the only way to protect yourselves and to protect others.”

More than 1.3 million people made appointments to be vaccinated via the Doctolib website in the hours following Macron’s speech.

Throughout the pandemic, Macron said, he has “constantly sought balance between protection and freedom”. Only 2½ months ago, he promised that “the health pass will never grant a right to access that differentiates among French people”. That was before the Delta variant and the threat of a fourth wave.

Only one country – the central Asian dictatorship in Turkmenistan – has made vaccination mandatory for all adults, the British Medical Journal reports. But compulsory vaccination may be the wave of the future. The UK has required vaccination of frontline healthcare workers since last month, before Macron. Countries as varied as Fiji, Greece, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Saudi Arabia have conditioned employment in many fields on the acceptance of vaccination. The US bank Morgan Stanley has barred all but fully vaccinated staff and clients from its New York offices.

Macron’s speech was unofficially the first of his re-election campaign. He devoted more than half the 30-minute address to his own record in office and plans for the future. The backdrop of the Eiffel Tower was a strong visual symbol. The speech was more direct, comprehensible and shorter than many of Macron’s past discourses.

Macron came across as cheerful, firm and determined in the face of adversity, despite the fact that his first term as president has often felt like one interminable crisis. The scandal surrounding his former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla in 2017 was followed by the revolt of the yellow vests in 2018-2019, transport strikes over pension reform in 2019-2020 and, for the last 16 months, the Covid pandemic.

Before he announced the new anti-Covid measures, Macron vaunted his handling of the epidemic. French children missed only 12 weeks of school, compared with 56 weeks in the US and 34 weeks in Germany, he noted. His policy of “whatever it costs” has “protected our companies, our jobs and the purchasing power of many French people”. Though he did not say so, it has also raised deficit spending to a whopping 9.4 per cent of GDP.

Portraying himself as the proverbial safe pair of hands, Macron said that “these choices and these results enable us to take on the difficulties that are still before us with determination”.

Macron’s patriotic tone – “We are a great nation, a nation of science, of the Enlightenment, of Louis Pasteur” – was also redolent of the campaign trail.

Spending pledges

Over the remaining nine months of his term, Macron promised to concentrate €100 billion in economic recovery funds on fighting climate change. He says he will remedy shortages of wood, steel, iron and semiconductors, as well as labour. He will use the French presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2022 “to build a shared agenda for industrial and technological independence”. (The words “from China” were understood.)

In rhetoric reminiscent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign, Macron said “this French social model rests on a foundation: work . . . In France, one must always earn a better living by working than by staying at home, which is not always the case today.”

By referring to an upcoming investment plan "to build the France of 2030", Macron seemed to project himself into a second, 2022-2027 term in office. He wants France, and Europe, to be "the champions of tomorrow in digital technology, green industry, biotechnology and agriculture".

Macron’s reform of unemployment insurance will take effect on October 1st. Also this autumn, he intends to launch a “revenue of commitment” for unemployed youths, and increase support for the elderly and the handicapped. “We will retake control of our destiny as a nation . . . We have a rendez-vous with our future,” said Macron the presidential candidate.