Macron causes stir as he vows to ‘piss off’ France’s unvaccinated

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.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves a European Union (EU) summit at the European Council Building at the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 17, 2021. (Photo by STEPHANIE LECOCQ / POOL / AFP)

“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”.

READ ALSO: French word of the Day: Emmerder

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 15th.

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.

OPINION: Macron’s vow to ‘piss off’ unvaxxed was deliberate and won’t hurt his election chances

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.

READ ALSO: French MPs suspend debate on introduction of vaccine pass

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. He also often expressed contrition for his comments and promised to show respect for everyone.

“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. 

Macron wants to stand for re-election

In the same interview Macron said h 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.”

Member comments

  1. “When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible. An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen,” – the fine line between rights and responsibilities…sometimes a difficult balance to strike.

  2. The President needs to decide if he’s happy living in a democracy. In China and N Korea it’s certainly a lot easier to simply manage by edict without all that messy business of winning support , consent and the backing of the country. There’s no question that the unvaccinated are still citizens , whatever Macron says, the real question is he still a democrat ?

    1. If you’re not happy with his policy which most French citizens agree with. I suggest you move to the UK.

        1. Why would I move to China? I love France. I’m not expressing unhappiness with living in France and its values. You are.

  3. I fully support Macron on his Covid policy As he says my freedom and health is put at risk by the non-vaccinated. They are free to stay at home. It is no different to banning smoking in cafes and restaurants.

    1. He also said AZ vaccine was quasi-ineffective for anyone over 65. Did you support his policy then or when it changed to only being allowed for those over 65 ? BTW , if you ban smoking in cafes that reduces the risk of passive smoking to zero. If you ban the unvaccinated from cafes , you can still get the virus there.

      1. AZ was fine for earlier variants.

        Neither smoking ban nor unvaccinated ban reduce risks to 0% – but they reduce them low enough to enact bans.

        1. The point is that according to the Govt here, AZ was fine, then it wasn’t fine, then it was fine again and finally it’s only fine for the rest of the World. Not the basis for confidence in Presidential edicts dismissing millions of citizens as non-Citizens.

          1. He wasn’t the only politician in the world to abandon AstraZeneca. Have to admit, it seemed like a pretty good vaccine, it is a shame it was vilified so much by the press.

          2. Is funny how when science finds new or updated data to support a new hypothesis , it changes its recommendations based on the new data. Is almost like, that’s how science is supposed to work….

          3. You’re right , science always comes with caveats and covid science is constantly changing. It’s the politicians that think they have all the answers.

  4. I think “pissing people off” is a tad too strong for “emmerder”. “Seriously annoying” is closer. “Pissing off” would be closer to “faire chier”.

  5. What a bunch of hypocrites all these opposition leaders are. Of course, none of them have
    ever used such any everyday word as “emmerder”, in its various forms. (Melenchon? the prissy
    Mme le Pen?….) Given that we hear the verb so widely used in French, I think translating i
    by the definitely vulgar English “piss off” — and I am surprised that the always perceptive
    and knowledgeable John Litchfield should have gone for that sersion — seriously distorts what Macros
    was saying. “Piss off” means exactly that, that the “pissing off” was an
    end in itself. In the context of Macron’s remarks, a much more accurate translation, I feel, would have
    been “make life (bloody) difficult for,” with the clear implication that this was being done to incentivize
    anti-vaxxers to do their duty as citizens. in that, all power to him.

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French diplomats to strike over ‘avalanche’ of reforms

French diplomats are to strike next month for only the second time in their history, protesting an "avalanche" of reforms that unions say are undermining the foreign service at a time of global tensions.

French diplomats to strike over 'avalanche' of reforms

“The Quai d’Orsay is disappearing little by little,” read a statement from six staff unions, using a familiar name for the French foreign ministry’s headquarters on the south bank of the Seine in central Paris.

The main complaint is a reform to career structures which will see the special status accorded to the most senior diplomats scrapped from next year, unions say.

“These measures dismantling our diplomatic service make no sense at a time when war has returned in Europe,” their joint statement said.

Under changes championed by President Emmanuel Macron, and rushed through by decree in April, top foreign service officials would lose their special protected status and be absorbed in a larger pool of elite public sector workers.

This could mean France’s roughly 700 most senior diplomats being asked to join other ministries and facing competition from non-diplomats for top postings.

“We’re very worried,” one serving diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We’re not interchangeable. I have the utmost respect for my colleagues in other state services but I don’t know how to do their job and they don’t know how to do mine.”

The strike has been called for June 2nd.

France has the third-biggest foreign service in the world after China and the United States, with around 14,000 employees at the foreign ministry in total.

The vast majority of these are non-diplomats or people on local contracts in countries around the world.

The aim of the government shake-up is to encourage more mobility between state services, which have historically been divided up into separate units with rules and job protections that make moving between them very difficult.

The government is also keen to attract new, more diverse candidates to the diplomatic service by opening new routes to the ministry, but critics see a danger of political interference.

“The door is now open to American-style nominations,” former ambassador to Washington and vocal critic of the reform, Gerard Araud, tweeted last month.

American ambassadors are named by the president, who often uses the power to reward political allies and donors with plum foreign postings.

The last and only strike by French diplomats was in 2003 to push for pay increases.

The stoppage on June 2nd underlines “the real malaise in the ministry, which does not have a rebellious culture,” Olivier da Silva from the CFTC union said.