The bill that will see France’s Covid health pass transformed into a vaccine pass has hit a new obstacle after discussions between MPs and senators failed to reach a conclusion yesterday evening (January 13).
The government had originally hoped to introduce the vaccine pass tomorrow (January 15), but the bill has been held up several times in both houses of the French parliament.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said last Sunday that the objective was to get the vaccine pass in operation by the first few days of next week (week beginning January 17).
However, no agreement was reached during discussions yesterday by a joint committee made up of both senators from the upper house and MPs from the lower house.
This could mean further delays to the introduction of the vaccine pass which, if approved, would mean negative Covid tests will no longer be sufficient to enter the majority of public places, such as cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums.
What caused the latest delay?
The Committee had been close to an agreement when opposition politician Bruno Retailleau, the president of Les Républicains group in the Senate, posted a controversial Tweet.
In it, he said that the vaccine pass had “proved senators right”, referring to modifications the Senate made to the bill. The Senate in France is currently dominated by right-wing opposition politicians.
The amendments to the original text include preventing restaurant, cafe and other service staff from being allowed to ask for customers’ IDs, and increasing to 18 the age at which a vaccine pass will be required (it was set at 16 in the text adopted by MPs).
Mr Retailleau also wrote in the Tweet, “the senators have obtained numerous clarifications and simplifications. The pass is intended to protect the French and nothing else... whether Emmanuel Macron likes it or not”.
La CMP sur le #passevaccinal a donné raison au #Sénat, c'est la victoire du bon sens. Les sénateurs ont obtenu de nombreuses clarifications et simplifications. Le passe est destiné à protéger les Français et à rien d'autre... n'en déplaise à Emmanuel Macron— Bruno Retailleau (@BrunoRetailleau) January 13, 2022
This Tweet, posted before the conclusion of the talks by the Committee, caused uproar among the government majority.
Yaël Braun-Pivet, an MP for ruling party La République En Marche!, said the Tweet was “an intolerable attack on the institutions” and the functioning of the Committees, which are supposed to be held behind closed doors.
She said the Committee had been a failure.
Mr Retailleau defended his Tweet in an interview with Franceinfo, saying he regretted nothing and that the reaction by the majority had been “totally disproportionate”.
He did admit though that he had sent the Tweet too soon.
He said he did not know why the majority reacted so badly to his Tweet.
“You have to ask them,” he told Franceinfo.
“I don't understand how one Tweet can have so many consequences. We are in a health crisis, we need a vaccine pass to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“So, please, let's not let one Tweet break the construction of an agreement that was practically sealed,” he said.
What happens next?
The Committee is set to meet again this afternoon (January 14) to continue to seek an agreement over the text.
Then there will be another reading of the bill in the Senate, which will likely take place on Saturday, before the Assemblée nationale has the final word, which could happen either on Sunday or the beginning of next week.
There is also the possibility that the bill will be referred to the constitutional court, which could cause further delays.
Once all of that is cleared, the government will be able to implement the vaccine pass.
It is now highly unlikely to happen by the beginning of next week, and if discussions at the parliament have shown anything, it is that it is a highly controversial bill and could provoke more debates and delays.
Timeline of the vaccine pass bill
- The bill was first debated in France’s lower house, the Assemblée nationale, on January 3. Hundreds of amendments are tabled. Opposition MPs vote not to extend discussions past the usual midnight cut-off, so the debate is rescheduled to the following day.
Read more: French Covid vaccine pass law held up as opposition contests bill
- The bill was debated again in the Assemblée nationale on January 4. This time talks turn chaotic after President Emmanuel Macron’s comments about “pissing off” unvaccinated people are published in an interview with Le Parisien.
Read more: Emmanuel Macron admits he wants to ‘piss off’ the non-vaccinated
- A third session was scheduled for January 5. Finally, after all night discussions, MPs adopt the text at 05:25 in the morning (January 6), with 214 MPs voting in favour, 93 against and 27 abstaining.
Read more: French MPs pass Covid vaccine pass bill on third attempt
- The bill is passed to the upper house, the Senate, with the first reading taking place over the course of Tuesday night (January 11). The senators table hundreds of amendments to the original text. It means another reading is required.
Read more: French senators want vaccine pass only for over 18s after first debate
Read more: MP’s bid to guarantee voting rights for unvaccinated in France fails
- A second reading of the bill takes place in the Senate over the course of Wednesday night (January 12). It finally passes at around 02:30 on Thursday morning, with 249 for, 63 against, and 26 abstentions. It contains several amendments to the original text.
- A joint committee of MPs and Senators is formed to find an agreement on the text. Discussions take place on Thursday afternoon (January 13). After around four hours, talks once again turn chaotic after a controversial Tweet from a member of Les Républicains. The Committee is to meet again today (January 14)