Mandatory vaccination: why are the French protesting?

Major demonstrations against mandatory vaccination in the health sector and the health passport took place again in several French cities over the weekend. According to the Ministry of the Interior, around 240,000 people took to the street. The Constitutional Council had previously approved the new Covid measures. But these demonstrations are about more than the conflict between measures to fight the pandemic and personal freedoms, commentators observe.

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Adevărul (RO) /

The pandemic ignites social unrest

The demonstrations in France are part of a Europe-wide trend, observes journalist Iulian Chifu in Adevărul:

“Nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia are the main trends emerging as fallout a year and a half after the outbreak of the pandemic. ... While some have used the state of emergency to strengthen their political position and eliminate opposition and opponents, others are making the mistake of introducing and maintaining excessive restrictions that change the lifestyle that existed before the pandemic. ... Such excesses could lead to less and less acceptance of politics and encourage ideological extremes.”

El País (ES) /

The right is hijacking the debate on freedom

Commenting in El País, writer and philosopher Josep Ramoneda criticises leftists and liberals for not making more of an effort to engage in the debate:

“How can we allow the far right to usurp the word freedom? ... This situation forces us to once again appeal to the liberals and the leftists and ask why they are shying away from uncomfortable debates and giving away votes to reactionary populism. In the fight against the pandemic, it is not easy to strike a balance between health and rights. ... But avoiding public discussion of these issues devalues politics and normalises the move towards post-democratic authoritarianism.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Voluntary principle better than force

Politicians must not lose sight of the long-term impact of pandemic response measures, urges columnist Fraser Myers in The Daily Telegraph:

“What may seem expedient today - lockdown, school closures, and even mandatory vaccination - could easily undermine trust in the government and in public health in the future. Mandatory vaccination turns the brilliant, life-saving vaccines into a tool of coercion and authoritarianism. It turns 'public health' into an enemy of liberty and of workers' rights. That is why the voluntary principle is always best.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Dangerous loss of faith in the political class

The protests do not bode well for what comes after the pandemic:, says the Guardian:

“Polls indicate that around a third of French people are sympathetic to the protests. A disturbingly large minority appears to have lost faith in the political class, as evidenced by the remarkable levels of abstention in recent local elections. Covid, hopefully, will recede as a threat. But as states and governments attempt the vital transition to net-zero carbon emissions, the buy-in and trust of all citizens will be essential as everyday life is profoundly disrupted. The French protests are a warning that this may not be easy.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Always the same scapegoat

Corriere della Sera observes a surge of anti-Semitism among the French population:

“It doesn't matter whether they are wearing yellow vests and protesting against petrol prices or in casual dress and demonstrating against the health pass, they always have just one explanation for the world's woes: the Judeo-Masonic or even just the Jewish conspiracy. It was only a matter of time before the fourth Saturday of demonstrations in France put the 'Jewish oligarchy' back in the firing line, claiming it is to blame for the pandemic, mandatory vaccination and restrictions for those who do not want to be vaccinated. ... The anti-vaxxers initially wore completely inappropriate yellow stars, but on Saturday they shouted anti-Semitic slogans and denounced the 'traitors of the Fatherland'.”

Mediapart (FR) /

A reaction to authoritarian crisis management

Macron only has himself to blame for the protests that are gaining force from week to week, says Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief of Mediapart:

“The government failed to seize the opportunity to introduce a democratic health policy based on dialogue and the involvement of those most affected by the measures. ... The fury directed against a health policy condemned as illegitimate because it is perceived as authoritarian is - as abhorrent or irresponsible as some of its expressions may be - the payback for a truly authoritarian management of the Covid-19 crisis centred on the president, who was promoted to sole decision-maker without any debate or transparency and without any humility or pedagogy.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Anything but a president of the rich

The French president's health policy isn't all that bad, counters Le Soir:

“Emmanuel Macron has often been called the president of the rich. In the health sector, however, this accusation is unjustified. No head of state before him ever took the decision to fully cover the costs of glasses and dental prostheses. Covid is putting him to the test. It's up to him now to convince those who are taking to the streets and accusing him of restricting freedoms that his decisions promote equality.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

No alternative to the pass

L'Opinion says the demonstrators' arguments don't make sense:

“[The health passport] is quite strict. But that is because only half the population has received two doses. The vaccination does not prevent infection, but it's a guarantee that you won't end up in hospital. ... Demonstrating is a right. But to get carried away with the word 'freedom' and to restrict others' freedom for it is unacceptable. The extension of the health pass may be debatable, especially with regard to its specific design. However, if it is approved by the sages of the Constitutional Council, it will allow all those who have opted for immunisation to live as freely as possible with a virus that, unfortunately, looks set to stay. A fundamental point.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

No danger to Macron

No need for the government to worry, believes Rudolf Balmer, the taz correspondent in France:

“The state leadership knows it has the support of the majority of the population with respect to Covid measures. ... However, the decisive point is that the protesters against the Covid rules do not have a uniform profile or a programme or even the same demands, except for a call for freedom. The demonstrators' extremely heterogeneous backgrounds and their diverging aims and ideological goals are presumably their greatest weakness - and conversely the advantage of the state, which is hardly impressed.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Need for unity prevails

Despite growing numbers of demonstrators, the overall political mood in France is not very confrontational, Le Monde concurs:

“This time, the head of state can really rely on a silent majority that is willing to get vaccinated. For La France insoumise as well as for the Rassemblement national it is tempting to take up this protest. But it won't necessarily pay off since this movement is not viewed with as much sympathy as previous protests. It's as if, given the seriousness of the situation, a minimum of political unity is required, as it was after the end of the Second World War. ... Most of the economic and social decisions of the last eighteen months hold little potential for discussion. Everyone, above all the government, had to do their part.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

A wise calculation

Rzeczpospolita examines Macron's policies in light of next year's presidential election:

“Emmanuel Macron, who will stand for re-election next year, has proven to be a trendsetter in terms of restrictions for the unvaccinated. And he has already achieved a lot. ... Thanks to Macron's decision, the percentage of people fully vaccinated in France has suddenly overtaken that of the United States. ... If media reports return, probably in the autumn and winter, about cemeteries filling up with lightning speed and the inability to save people's lives, the topic will become more important for the election. It seems that Macron's calculation is wise.”