French president says he wants to ‘piss off’ the unvaccinated: Why Macron’s remark could dent his chances in April’s elections

France’s Emmanuel Macron is not the most liked person in France at the moment.

His comment about his coronavirus strategy to ‘piss off the unvaccinated’ (using the term “emmerder” in French) has ignited a storm in the European nation, where daily COVID-19 cases is smashing records.

We take a look at what happened and how France is reacting to Macron.

‘Piss off the unvaccinated’

In a Tuesday interview with Le Parisien newspaper, President Emmanuel Macron said that he wanted to “emmerder” the unvaccinated, using French slang that might literally translate as “cover in shit”.

The verb “emmerder” is commonly used in France to mean annoy or hassle, a vulgar but not shocking turn of phrase — except perhaps in the mouth of the head of the state.

In the interview, he said, “We have to tell (the unvaccinated)… 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,” the president said.

“If your freedom threatens others’ freedom, you become irresponsible. And irresponsible people are no longer citizens,” Macron added.

The Macron government is seeking to make it mandatory for people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter cafés, restaurants, museums, cinemas and theatres. The COVID-19 pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who opposed the vaccine pass proposal, said the president wants “to wage war against a portion of the French.”

Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, accused Macron of “cruelty.” On the far left, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon asked: “Is the president in control of what he says?”

Opposition up in arms

Not surprisingly, Macron’s comment has invited the wrath of other political leaders and the public in general.

“No health emergency justifies such words,” Bruno Retailleau, head of the conservative Les Républicains party in the Senate, was quoted by France24 as saying, adding, “We can encourage vaccination without insulting anyone.”

“It’s not up to the president of the Republic to pick out the good and bad French people,” Macron’s top challenger, Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pecresse, told broadcaster CNews. She called for a government “that unites people and calms things down”.

Far-right leader and presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen tweeted that a president “shouldn’t say that”, adding that Macron was “unworthy of his office”.

Some members of the public too responded negatively to Macron’s words. Sales representative Maya Belhassen told Reuters, “That shows an aggressive side, it’s a bad word, it’s not very clever of him.”

“That’s not a good comment from a president,” added newspaper seller Pascal Delord.

COVID-19 in France

On Wednesday, France set a record for a new record of COVID-19 cases over a 24-hour period with more than 332,000 additional infections recorded.

It was the first time that French cases breached 300,000, smashing the previous record established on Tuesday when 271,686 new coronavirus cases were recorded.

This comes at a time when around five million people in France remain unvaccinated, with 20 percent of them considered to be at high risk from COVID.

Sending a message ahead of polls?

Interestingly, Macron’s comment comes ahead of April’s presidential vote. Macron has not yet officially said he was running for re-election, although his supporters are already preparing a campaign.

Many experts note that his off-the-cuff comment is a pre-election message to address the widespread exasperation at the COVID-19 crisis in France.

Political communications expert Philippe Moreau Chevrolet tweeted that Macron’s goal with the message is “to draw all the attention” and “make his contenders disappear, on the Trump model.”

Journalist Frédéric Says, a close observer of French politics, said on France Culture radio that it seems likely that Macron wants to “capitalize” on the exasperation expressed by many French voters.

Macron’s zingers

This isn’t the first time that a comment by Macron has caused a furor. In September 2018, he told a jobless man that he just had to “cross the street” to find work.

In another incident, which raised eyebrows, Macron in 2019 wished an activist in her 70s, who was hurt in a police charge to disperse a banned yellow vest protest in Nice, with a measure of wisdom. “When you’re frail, when you can be pushed around, you don’t go to places that are defined as off-limits and you don’t put yourself in situations that this one,” he had said.

With inputs from agencies

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