PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has provoked outcries in parliament and protests from election rivals by using a vulgarity to describe his strategy for pressuring vaccine refusers to get coronavirus jabs.
Macron used the French word “emmerder,” rooted in the French word for “crap” and meaning to rile or to bug, in an interview published by French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday night. The president made the explosive remark as lawmakers are heatedly debating new measures that would allow only the vaccinated to enjoy leisure activities such as eating out.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to bug them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” Le Parisien quoted the French leader as saying in a sit-down interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of its readers.
His use of earthy language more commonly heard at the counters of French cafés further complicated the already difficult passage in parliament of the government’s planned new vaccine pass. Lawmakers debated into early Wednesday morning before their discussions were again suspended, disrupted by the furor over Macron’s remarks.
The vaccine pass will exclude unvaccinated individuals from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights.
Opposition lawmakers protested audibly in the National Assembly chamber as Macron’s health minister, Olivier Veran, sought to defend the president’s choice of words.
Veran said Macron’s interview demonstrated his “intention, above all, to protect the population.”
Critics accused Macron of behavior unbecoming a president and of targeting the unvaccinated to win support from the 90% of French adults who are fully vaccinated. Opposition lawmaker Sébastien Jumel said Macron “deliberately chose to add hysteria to the debate.”
Macron is facing reelection in April.
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?”
Macron’s supporters suggested the president simply expressed out loud what some vaccinated people already think about the non-vaccinated, in a country with bitter divides over the issue.
France reported a record-smashing 271,686 daily virus cases Tuesday as omicron infections race across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transportation, schools and other services.
Macron’s government is straining to avoid a new economically damaging lockdown that could hurt his reelection prospects. Ministers are instead trying to rush the vaccine pass bill through parliament in hopes that it will be enough to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the country’s infection rates.
COVID-19 patients fill more than 72% of France’s intensive care unit ICU beds, and its once-renowned health care system is again showing signs of strain. Most virus patients in ICUs are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, though 77% of the French population has had at least two doses.