French lawmakers seek deal on vaccine passports after protests

AFP , Sunday 25 Jul 2021

The talks between members of the National Assembly and Senate come a day after France was again shaken by nationwide protests against the rules that saw over 160,000 rally and dozens arrested

Protesters take part in a protest against the compulsory vaccination for certain workers and the mandatory use of the health pass called by the French government, on the "Droits de l'homme" (human rights) esplanade at the Trocadero Square, in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on July 24, 2021. AFP

Lawmakers from France's upper and lower houses of parliament were on Sunday seeking to agree a deal to allow the adoption of legislation making vaccine passports vital for French daily life in the battle against Covid-19.

The talks between members of the National Assembly and Senate come a day after France was again shaken by nationwide protests against the rules that saw over 160,000 rally and dozens arrested.

President Emmanuel Macron last week ordered that the health pass -- proof of a double vaccination or a negative test -- would be required for the French to visit venues such as a cinema or nightclub and ultimately bars and restaurants.

The announcement was a move by Macron to make vaccinations the number one weapon against Covid-19 as new variants emerge, essentially requiring people to become vaccinated if they want to continue daily routines.

But it has encountered fierce opposition from some who believe the vaccine passports erode civil liberties, while the ruling party has faced a tough task pushing the legislation through parliament.

While pro-Macron MPs control the lower house National Assembly the upper house Senate is dominated by the opposition right.

The Senate approved the legislation overnight by 199 votes to 123 but added numerous amendments that the government fears risk limiting the impact of the rules.

The two sides were Sunday afternoon to hold talks at a parliamentary commission to find a compromise, with the government hoping an agreement can be found for its definitive adoption later Sunday.

In an extra step requested by Prime Minister Jean Castex, the legislation then needs to be approved by France's highest administrative authority, the Constitutional Council, before becoming law.

- 'Irresponsibility and egoism' -

Some 161,000 people, including 11,000 in Paris had protested on Saturday against the health pass, with demonstrators brandishing slogans including "freedom is being trampled on".

Seventy one people were arrested, including 24 in Paris, and 29 members of the security forces were injured, the ministry of the interior said.

On a visit to the France's Pacific territory of French Polynesia, Macron scoffed at how slogans of freedom were being brandished at the protests.

"Everyone is free to express themselves calmly with respect for the other," he said. "But freedom where I owe nothing to someone else does not exist".

He said that under such logic, relatives could be infected by someone who is not vaccinated "when there is the chance to have something that protects", or the person could themselves end up in hospital.

"I don't call this freedom, I call this irresponsibility and egoism," he said.

By maximising the number of vaccinations, the government wants to minimise the impact of the virus' fourth wave. Some 40 million people should have received at least one jab by Monday.

As well as making vaccinations obligatory for healthworkers and carers, the legislation would make a health pass compulsory from August for travel in planes and inter-city trains and also just to visit a cafe or restaurant.

After Macron's announcement, the health pass is already compulsory for cinemas, museums and any venue gathering more than 50 people.

The Senate wants the legislation to take more note of civil liberties by exempting shopping centres, cafe terraces as well as minors from the rules.

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