‘Piss off the unvaccinated’: Not first time Macron’s words cause stir

We look at some of the president’s previous controversial statements 

5 January 2022

President Emmanuel Macron admitted in a December 2021 interview that he felt he had hurt people with his words during his presidency Pic: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

By Thomas Brent

President Emmanuel Macron’s yesterday (January 4) pledged to continue to “piss off unvaccinated people” causing a wave of backlash – and some support – but it is far from the first time he has caused debate with his words.

“I'm not in favour of pissing off the French. I complain all day long about officialdom when it causes obstructions but, here, with the non-vaccinated, I really want to seriously annoy them,” the president stated in an interview in the French newspaper Le Parisien.

“So we're going to keep on doing it, right to the end, that's the strategy,” he added.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron admits he wants to ‘really annoy’ the non-vaccinated

His comments were in reference to the planned introduction of a vaccine pass later this month, which would mean only people vaccinated against Covid could enter public places such as cafes, restaurants, cinemas, etc. 

Read more: Covid boosters, vaccine passes: What changes in France on January 15?

There has been a large backlash to this from his political opponents, but it is not the first time he has been under fire for controversial comments. 

In a televised interview in December [2021], he admitted that he had said some hurtful things to people during his time in power. 

“In some of the things I said, I may have hurt people. I think you can move things along without hurting people, and that's what I won't do again. At the time I did it, I didn't realise that I was hurting [people],” he said.

He was mainly referring to a series of comments made in 2017 and 2018. For example, in 2017 he was quoted as saying: “A railway station is a place where you meet people who are successful and people who are nothing”. In the same year he said, “the best way to afford a suit is to work”. 

Read more: ‘I regret that I’ve hurt people with my words,’ says President Macron

In 2018 an infamous incident took place when he told a young unemployed man that he could easily just cross the road and find him a job.

Read more: French President defends ‘cross the street’ job quip

Mr Macron was accused by detractors of class contempt after these comments. 

“The sentence that is unacceptable is the one where I talk about 'successful people and those who are nothing,” he said during the December interview, admitting that he regretted some of his phrases. 

By way of justification, he said that today we live in a society of “decontextualisation”. 

In another incident in 2018, the president railed against the high cost of social benefits that do not work.

“We put a shed-load of money into social welfare and still people can't get by,” he was heard saying in a video captured by an Elysée cameraman. 

His political opponents accused him of blaming poor people for not being able to get by. 

Backlash to ‘annoy the unvaccinated’ comment

Opposition politicians on both sides of the political spectrum criticised Mr Macron’s comments about “pissing off” the unvaccinated. 

Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right party the Rassemblement national (RN), said that a “president should not say that”. 

“The guarantor of the nation's unity is stubbornly trying to divide it, and he claims that he wants to turn the non-vaccinated into second-class citizens. Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office,” she said. 

Éric Zemmour, another notable far-right candidate in the presidential campaign, called out Mr Macron for ostracising non-vaccinated people.

“This is not just the cynical statement of a politician who wants to exist in the presidential campaign. It is the admitted, accepted cruelty that is paraded before despised French people,” he said. 

Valérie Pécresse, who will represent right-wing party Les Républicains (LR) in the election, similarly criticised Mr Macron’s words.

“It is not up to the President of the Republic to separate the good French from the bad French. We must bring them together without insulting them.

“Yes, we must have the courage to tell the truth, but insults are never the right solution. We must put an end to this five-year period of contempt,” she said, referring to the president’s five-year mandate.

“In fact, I am the only one who can put an end to a president who obviously can't stand French people who don't think like him.”

Criticisms were similarly harsh on the left of the political spectrum. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of far-left party La France insoumise, tweeted, “does the President know what he is talking about?

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) says ‘convince rather than coerce’. What about him? To ‘annoy more’. Appalling.”

He also tweeted that Mr Macron’s words were a “stunning admission” that the proposed vaccine pass is a “collective punishment against individual freedom. 

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and presidential candidate for the left-wing Parti socialiste, tweeted with irony the phrase “reunite France” in response to Mr Macron’s comment.

Related stories:

Macron face slap: Why did the attacker shout ‘Montjoie Saint Denis’?

Political storm over EU flag at Arc de Triomphe baffles many

French Covid vaccine pass law held up as opposition contests bill

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