France's Emmanuel Macron wants to 'piss off' COVID-19 unvaccinated

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen was quick to respond to the “vulgarity” of Macron’s language and said on Twitter that it showed a “serious moral fault.”

French President Emmanuel Macron visits Lebanon, September 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES/POOL)
French President Emmanuel Macron visits Lebanon, September 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES/POOL)

French President Emmanuel Macron took Europe’s aggressive stance against the unvaccinated up a notch, saying he wants to “piss off” people who don’t get their COVID-19 shot.

“We will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy,” he said in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien. He added that means “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life.”

The comments sparked an angry response from opposition politicians in France, and led to Parliament suspending a debate on new virus restrictions. The session is due to resume Wednesday afternoon, and some lawmakers are demanding that Prime Minister Jean Castex shows up to explain the remarks.

Targeted measures are already in action in a number of countries, where those who aren’t vaccinated are restricted when it comes to accessing bars, restaurants and other day-to-day activities. The drive to get more people inoculated has stepped up since the emergence of the omicron variant, which has sent cases surging at record rates across Europe.

But dividing the population between the vaccinated and unvaccinated has proved controversial, and there have been numerous protests against the policy. 

The verb used by Macron in the interview — “emmerder” in French — is informal slang commonly used to insult people. It can also mean to hassle, or annoy.

FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for financially-strapped Lebanon, in Paris on December 2. (credit: IAN LANGSDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for financially-strapped Lebanon, in Paris on December 2. (credit: IAN LANGSDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

French politicians expressed dismay at Macron’s comments. Valerie Pecresse, presidential candidate for conservative party The Republicans, said on CNews she was “outraged by his comments” and that “insults are never a good solution.” 

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen was also quick to respond to the “vulgarity” of Macron’s language and said on Twitter that it showed a “serious moral fault.”

Surveys show that Macron has widespread support for his vaccination strategy. 

According to an internet poll of 1,006 people conducted December 21 and 22 by Odoxa for newspaper Le Figaro, 64% are in favor of the government’s proposal to strengthen the country’s health pass so that a recent negative test is no longer sufficient, and only those vaccinated can enter certain places including bars and restaurants.

In the interview with Le Parisien, Macron also said the unvaccinated don’t live up to their civic duties. “When my freedom ends up endangering that of others, I am irresponsible,” he said. “An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.”

Pressure on those who turn down COVID shots is intensifying elsewhere too. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said late Tuesday that people who have refused vaccines “can’t expect contact restrictions to be lifted in the short- or medium-term.”

“The vaccine mandate needs to come quickly,” the Harvard-trained epidemiologist told the RND media group. Allowing omicron to spread through the population as a “dirty vaccine” would be “very dangerous.”