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POLITICS

Turnout, aims and support: 5 things to know about France’s anti-health passport protests

Protests against the French health passport have now reached their fifth week - but who are the protesters, what do they want and do the majority of French people support them?

Turnout, aims and support: 5 things to know about France's anti-health passport protests
Protesters in Paris marching against the health pssport. Photo: Sameer Al Doumy/AFP

Saturday again saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in France to protest against the health passport – which is now required to access bars, cafés, museums, sports centres, tourist sites and long-distance travel.

Here’s what we know about the protests.

1 Turnout

Turnout for protests on Saturday was estimated by the Interior Ministry at 215,000 across the whole country, of which 14,000 were at protests in Paris. This is slightly down on the previous week’s figure of 237,000 (with 17,000 in Paris) – until then turnout had seen a steady week-on-week increase.

Protests and demonstrations in France always have official turnout estimates from the Interior Ministry and from the organisers, and those figures tend to be wildly different.

IN PICTURES: Fifth weekend of protest against health passport

These turnout figures are lower than some recent big protests – 800,000 turnout for protests against pension reform, 300,000 weekly turnout in the early days of the ‘yellow vests’. However large scale protests in August – when many French people are on holiday – are a rarity.

OPINION: Anti-health passport protests will continue in France – but this is not a new ‘yellow vest’ moment

2 Aims

Although generally described as ‘anti-health passport’ demos, the protesters themselves have revealed a diverse range of concerns, from the introduction of the health passport itself to the vaccination programme in general, the compulsory vaccination of healthcare workers, the vaccine programme for children and a more general opposition to president Emmanuel Macron.

A protester in the western Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, calls for the vaccination of children and teenagers to be paused until more clinical trials can be done. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Paris alone saw three organised demos on Saturday – one described as a ‘yellow vests’ demonstration, one organised by right wing politician Florian Philippot and one billed simply as being an anti-health pass demo.

Media interviews with demonstrators have also revealed a range of views – from people who are pro-vaccine but worry about the civil liberties aspect of the health passport to committed anti-vaxxers.

A protester in Lyon holds up a sign saying ‘No to world medical trials, no to highly toxic ‘graphene’ no the the health dictatorship’. Photo by JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

3 Anti-Semitism

A persistent thread among a small minority of the protesters has been anti-Semitism. Paris prosecutors have opened an enquiry into “public incitement to hatred or violence against a person or a group of people because of their origin or their membership or non-membership of a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion” relating to signs seen on Saturday’s protest, while a teacher will go on trial over a sign that she carried at a demo in Metz.

Many signs or chants say Qui (who) referring to a far-right, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Another frequently-seen sign on demonstrations, which has drawn condemnation from groups including the Auschwitz Foundation, is people wearing yellow stars saying ‘unvaccinated’ – intended to liken themselves to Jews forced to wear yellow stars during the Nazi occupation of France.

4 Support

As well as people who actually turn up to demonstrations, successful protest movements also need the support of a broad range of public opinion. According to an Ifop poll conducted on August 11th and 12th for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, 50 percent of French people are now ‘hostile’ to the protests, an increase of three percent on a previous similar poll.

Other polls suggest similar figures, with around 30 percent of people saying they support the movement or understand their concerns (compared to 70 percent support for the ‘yellow vests’ at the start of their protests).

Banners and chants on the protests also reveal a lot of personal hatred for Macron, suggesting that at least some of the demonstrators are those who are deeply hostile to any of the president’s policies.

A protester in Paris holds up an Emmanuel Macron mask with a health passport code on its forehead and blood dripping from its mouth. Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

5 Vaccination rates

The French government has always been explicit that part of the purpose of the health passport is to push people into being vaccinated by making daily life inconvenient for the unvaccinated. The health passport can be used by the unvaccinated, but requires either proof of recent recovery from Covid or a negative test result taken within 72 hours – and from October these ‘convenience tests’ will cease to be free.

READ ALSO How can people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons use France’s health passport?

The policy had an immediate effect on vaccination rates, with bookings for appointments on the medical app Doctolib spiking before Macron even finished his speech announcing the policy.

Since his announcement on July 12th, 10 million people have received their first dose of the vaccine, putting France on course to hit its target of 50 million people having at least one vaccine dose by the end of August (out of a population of 67 million people, 57 million of which are 12 and over and therefore eligible for the vaccine and 52 million of which are adults).

Member comments

  1. Serious question: Have there been ANY rallies in favor of the government’s policies? I suspect that many people are highly supportive, but this silent majority seems to be invisible.

  2. Ugh, it’s frustrating that so many people deny the realities of the pandemic and protest what amounts to a minor inconvenience, while so many important issues go largely unprotested.

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ENVIRONMENT

French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

France's top three energy providers are imploring the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to save resources and avoid shortages this winter as cuts to Russian gas and oil begin to bite.

French energy firms urge 'immediate' cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three top French energy companies came together to urge the French public to reduce their energy consumption.

The heads of TotalEnergies, EDF and Engie published an open letter in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday calling on the French to “immediately” reduce their consumption of petrol/gasoline, diesel, oil, electricity and gas in order to help stave off the shortages and soaring prices that could threaten “social cohesion” in France this winter.

The letter begs people to begin “acting this summer,” on cutting energy and fuel usage, adding that this “will allow us to be better prepared to face next winter and in particular to preserve our gas reserves.”

Why is there a risk of shortage this winter?

In light of the war in Ukraine, deliveries of Russian gas to France and other European nations via pipeline have been significantly decreased. Thus France, like the rest of Europe, is attempting to fill its gas reserves in preparation for this upcoming winter. The goal is to have French gas reserves at 100 percent by this fall

As Americans prepare for ‘driving season’ (when many families use their cars to go on vacation) and China begins to relax some of its lockdown measures, the world oil market is looking at high demand that may not be in line with current production capabilities. 

France is a relatively small consumer of Russian gas, but does depend heavily on domestic nuclear plants for energy – production of nuclear energy is however threatened by two things; droughts that mean shortages of water for cooling purposes at plants and maintenance issues that have lead to several plants being temporarily shut down for safety

Concern for adequate energy resources has been on the minds of energy providers for several years, according to the manager of France’s Electricity Transmission Network (RTE).

France has been anticipating that the winters of 2018 to 2024 would be “delicate” as this is a pivotal period for energy transition after several coal-powered plants were closed. France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, was also shut down and disconnected from the French grid in 2020.

As of late May, almost half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline due to planned closures, as well as issues related to corrosion.  

What is the real risk of shortage this winter?

“There is no risk of shortage in the short term,” assured France’s Ministry of Environment in May, as there are up to “90 days worth of strategic stocks, as well as commercial stocks, which can both be distributed throughout the country as needed.” 

Experts like Professor Jan Horst Keppler, from Paris-Dauphine University, also do not anticipate a widespread shortage, though, “potential spot shortages are possible.”

Horst Keppler clarified that it is not possible in many cases to substitute one quality of oil for another, which could mean that some refineries may experience “spot shortages.” Therefore, he urged that consumers and providers will have to pay close attention to “the availability of gasoline, diesel and heating oil” even more so “than the availability of crude oil.”

Other European countries, however, are sounding the alarm. Germany, for example, will return to coal-powered energy in order to meet demands this winter. 

What are the energy companies doing to combat risk of shortage?

According to their statement, the heads of France’s top energy providers accept their “responsibility to act on the supply side” by implementing short term plans such as “diversifying gas supplies, proactively filling storage facilities, speeding up liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, and reactivating ‘mothballed’ facilities.”

Additionally, the leaders hope to launch a “major energy efficiency program” and a “national hunt for waste.”

In addition to ensuring adequate energy stocks for the winter, the three leaders also urge the French public to consider reducing consumption as a means for increasing household purchasing power in the fight against rising cost of living, as well as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also said that reducing energy “immediately” will show solidarity with other European nations at greater risk, particularly those in Eastern and Central Europe. 

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