Some say it is a totalitarian move, apartheid, a health dictatorship; others claim that it is the only way to get French people to accept to be vaccinated and stop the spread of Covid. The one thing everybody agrees on is that, if you want a life, and a job, after mid-September, you will need to prove you have had both Covid shots at all times.
President Emanuel Macron laid out his plans for the coming months in a nation-wide speech July 12 which sounded very much like the beginning of his campaign for re-election next year. After claiming a miraculous economic recovery in 2021 (rejected by many), Macron announced that only those fully vaccinated will have a normal life starting in September.
The French president said the pass sanitaire, or vaccination passport, “will apply to cafés, restaurants, shopping centers, as well as in hospitals, retirement homes, institutions for the handicapped, but also in planes, trains and long distance buses” where only those with vaccinations and negative tests will be allowed. He added the new rules also apply to all “volunteers working in contact with the elderly or the fragile, including home care.” (1.)
These measures go into effect for recreational and cultural centers before August. And the day after Macron’s address, the Government Spokesman, Gabriel Attal, added to the confusion and panic when he said that the employees of bars, cafés, restaurants and shopping centers will have to be fully vaccinated by August too.
The Stick and The Stick
Those who do not conform will be sanctioned and this includes getting fired, fined and/or shut down. The Labor Minister, Elizabeth Borne, said July 13 that a Bill is being prepared which will allow employers to suspend employee contracts “from a month to six weeks” for those who have not been vaccinated by September 15. If the employee continues to refuse to be vaccinated, “it could go as far as being laid off” Borne said. This means employers will be allowed to fire staff without compensation. (2.)
The Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, says any health worker not vaccinated by September 15 will be sent home without pay “and at the end of a month and a half we can begin the laying off process.”
Even on the terraces “the owners of bars and restaurants will have to verify the pass sanitaire” said Labor Minister Borne. The same goes for supermarkets and shopping centers.
The French President also said that starting October the national health care system (la securité sociale) will stop paying for Covid CPR tests. Until now the national health service covered the cost starting at €56 per test. For 2020 alone, PCR tests cost the health care system 2.6 billion euros (over $3 billion) Many people were getting regular tests in order to avoid the vaccine and still work and travel.
For employers and business owners who do not respect the rules and get caught, there will be fines and even administrative closures.
The Costs of Stability
Covid came at a very bad time for Macron. His head was still spinning from the Yellow Vests Movement (here, here and here) which stopped his reforms dead in their tracks and cost him over 20 billion euros. Imediately after Macron’s speech the hashtage #GiletsJaunes (YellowVests) appeared on Twitter calling for demonstrations against the new measures on Bastille Day, July 14.
The Public Accounts Minister, Olivier Dussopt, says the Covid crisis will cost France 424 billion euros from 2020 to 2022 (over $500 billion) and that the deficit this year will be 9% of GDP. “If we take everything that has been done with the budget and in support of business’ cashflows” said Finance Minister, Bruno Lemaire, in May 2020, “that’s 20% of the nation’s wealth on the table.”
The national debt jumped from an unbearable 100% to 120% of GDP in 2020 alone. But Macron’s mantra was “whatever it costs” which is fine as long as Germany and a couple other wealthy northern Euro-zone countries continue to back the Euro and the ECB’s policy of printing money to cover the debt of others.
Among those costs: employees and small businesses had up to 70% of their revenues covered, taxes were withheld, reduced or postponed and many companies ‘too big to fail‘ were bailed out (Air France, Renault, Eurostar, Alstom , etc.) while the unemployed saw their jobless benefits extended. It’s still a good run for the big fish with growth expected to be near 6% this year. The benefits for the little guys are finished.
The free ride is over. It may not be time to pay the bill just yet but the dishes are waiting to get cleaned.
- It is important to remember how Macron rules by decree. He was basically given a blank check by his majority in parliament to rule from the Elysées. One of the first things he did was create the Elysées Task Force which also made the State of Emergency permanent and took it out of Parliament’s hands and put full powers into Macron’s, thus by-passing the Legislative and Judicial branches in its application. This secret group of Prefects, Security Chiefs and the Military Brass under the President’s leadership meet once a week where no notes are taken and no reports are issued but the decisions are made. One such meeting was held the morning of Macron’s pass sanitaire speech.
- Never let a good crisis go to waste. Macron has been trying to reduce compensation guarantees for labor since his election and did sign a labor reform bill which greatly reduced penalties for employers, made it easier to fire and possible to keep people on with repeatedly renewed short term contracts.