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DRIVING

OPINION: Majority of French have accepted the health passport with little more than a shrug

After a week travelling around France in an electric car, John Lichfield reports on the popular mood in France where - despite weekly demonstrations - the health passport is raising little protest from the majority.

OPINION: Majority of French have accepted the health passport with little more than a shrug
A shopping centre employee checks health passports. Photo: Pascal Pochard Casablanca/AFP

France is in a mood. But what mood? I’ve been travelling the length, and some of the breadth, of the country by electric car in the last week. I’ve been on holiday but I’ve also been asking questions and observing.

How are the French – the majority of the French – coping with the pass sanitaire (health pass), which restricts access to fun and long-distance travel? As the country approaches the rentrée and next spring’s presidential election, are the French in the febrile, even explosive, mood described by pollsters and opposition politicians?

Some of them, maybe.

I’ve lived and worked in France for 24 years. Some part of France – although not always the same part – is generally in a febrile and explosive mood.

My impressions are the following.

First, the pass sanitaire has been broadly accepted by the great mass of the French people. It is, in fact, working reasonably well.

The 200,000 or so people who demonstrated against it last weekend represent an extraordinary range of gripes and obsessions and special interests and some reasonable objections and reservations. They are not representative of France as a whole. (Pollsters say the protesters have circa 30 percent popular support, unchanged since the anti-pass movement began in mid-July).

READ ALSO Turnout, aims and support: Five things to know about France’s health passport protesters

Everywhere I went, I asked waitresses or restaurant or bar owners how the pass is going down. “Much better than we expected. People are playing the game,” said a waitress in Saumur on the Loire.

A few minutes later, a group of young men and women asked if they could eat on the terrace “sans pass”. The waitress politely refused. They politely departed.

In Aurillac in Cantal, a brasserie owner said that she feared that she had lost some customers. (Some restaurants report a 40 percent fall). 

“There are fewer young people in the evening. That’s certain. But I’m not against the pass,” she said.

“People need to be vaccinated. If that’s what it takes to persuade them, I’m in favour. What I dread far more is another lockdown. I couldn’t face that.”

My second observation –  a fairly obvious one – is that France has gone on holiday in France this year. There are many Dutch and Belgian visitors, very few Britons, but the holiday-makers in rural and mountain France are predominantly French.

READ ALSO Tourists return to France – but Brits are still absent

Compared to last summer, when caution was thrown to the winds, most people are observing social distancing rules. We visited a surreal market in a small town in Cantal.  Piles of local cheeses and saucissons; an atmosphere of festival and fun; and almost everyone wearing a mask.

We stumbled on the market as we were looking for somewhere to recharge the car. I have a Renault Zoe, with a nominal battery range of 300 kilometres. The range melts rapidly beyond 100 kph.  Unless you have a more expensive kind of e-car, you are obliged, more or less, to keep off the autoroutes and take the N and D roads.

This can be tedious. It can also be a joy. Leaving the autoroutes reminds you that France is a country of infinite beauty and undiscovered, or forgotten, local marvels, like our market in Cantal.

READ ALSO Discover 13 of France’s most beautiful villages, plus the place that the French love best

It also reminds you that France has become a country of a million roundabouts. Officially there are “only” 30,000 rond-points or “carrefours giratoires” . Actually, there are reckoned to be more like 50,000, with a thousand new ones springing up every year. Someone has calculated that half of the world’s roundabouts are now in France.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. When I hitch-hiked, and later drove, around France in the 1970s, there were almost no roundabouts. The D (departmental) roads and some of the N (National) roads were in a disgraceful condition. The warning sign “chausee déformée” (bumpy road ahead) was as much a part of rural France as fading advertisements for Martini or Byrrh painted on barns.

France’s secondary road system, even its tertiary road system, is now astonishingly good. The plague of roundabouts is a symptom of the billions of euros which have been spent in recent decades on major and minor roads outside the motorway network.

The original rural and outer-suburban Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) of 2018-9 were, in some respects, the precursors of the present anti-pass movement. One of their constant complaints was that taxes were spent on the big cities and the inner, multi-racial suburbs but not in La France Profonde.

This is untrue. More tax money is spent on rural France than is raised there – hence the new-found excellence of the roads.

One of the legacies of the great rebuilding of France’s rural roads is the roundabout – which also became the symbol and favourite haunt of the original Gilets Jaunes movement, which complained that rural France had been “abandoned”. That contradiction, so deliciously French, was seldom pointed out.

There is another deliciously French contradiction this summer.

The Saturday anti-pass marches are waning slightly but are still remarkably well-attended for the month of August. The great majority of French people (now 70 percent  first vaccinated and 60 pecent fully vaccinated) have accepted the pass with a shrug and got on with their lives.

Member comments

  1. Members question !
    Can a negative test result on paper replace the the pass sanitaire for entry into restaurants ?
    If so does it have to be dated the same day of the restaurant visit or how many days old can it be ?
    Thankyou for a definitive answer on the legal position , before we set out!!
    Thanks your always great publication
    Lesley Judd

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DRIVING

The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

From petrol discounts and motorway tolls to low-emission zones and help to buy a greener car, here’s what’s changing for motorists in France in the next 12 months.

The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

Petrol prices 

The French government’s €0.10 per litre discount on petrol and diesel ends on January 1st, and TotalEnergies’ discount-match at its fuel stations also finishes.

Motorists may be able to look forward to some help from the supermarket chain E.Leclerc, which also owns several petrol stations across France, after the head of the chain E.Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, told BFM Politique on December 18th that the company would “make a gesture” to help motorists in France with rising fuel prices, but he did not provide any further details.

But the blanket discount will be replaced by targeted assistance for households on lower incomes who rely on their vehicles for work, with about 10 million workers expected to receive a one-off payment of €100.

To apply for the aid, you will need to register your details on the tax website. 

READ ALSO Who will get France’s €100 fuel hand-out and how?

Carpooling

The French government has unveiled a plan to encourage carpooling on Tuesday, offering drivers who register on carpooling platforms a benefit of €100.

Drivers will be able to register starting on January 1st, and the payment of €100 will be done in instalments – with a lump sum of “at least” €25 upon registration and then the remaining amount distributed over the course of 10 carpool journeys.

“Carpooling is a very effective lever for reducing our country’s fuel consumption in a sustainable way. It is good for the climate and good for the purchasing power of the French,” French environment minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Huffpost.

READ ALSO French government announces €100 payment for those joining carpooling platforms

Motorway tolls

From February, motorway toll fees will rise by an average of 4.75 percent, after rising 2 percent in 2022.

The Transport Ministry pointed out that the 4.75 percent toll increase – announced in October – is “markedly lower” than France’s inflation rate of 6.33 percent. 

On some networks, electric vehicles will benefit from a five percent discount, while regular users – who make a minimum of 10 return journeys a month on the same route – may be eligible for a discount of 40 percent, up from the current 30 percent. Check with the motorway operator for details.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

Breakdown fees

No one wants to break down on the motorway, but if you do, you probably want to know how much getting your vehicle fixed will cost. The annual government-set charges are clear.

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee was to rise €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

READ ALSO French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Extra help to buy electric vehicles

French president Emmanuel Macron announced in October an increase in the financial aid available for anyone who trades in a combustion engine car for an electric one from January 2023.

In a partial reversal on previous plans, under which the ecological bonus for trading in an older car for an electric model was set to fall, Macron said: “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone, we are going to increase the ecological bonus from €6,000 to €7,000 for half of [France’s] households.” 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: The financial aid available to buy an electric car in France

Electric car charge points

Since October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Anyone who ignores the rule risks a fine of €58.

Crit’Air sticker extension and more fines for polluting vehicles

France’s environment minister announced in October a major extension of the city low-emission zones controlled by Crit’Air stickers, plus an increase in fines up to a maximum of €750. 

Between 2023 and 2025, 43 more French cities will create low-emission zones, on top of the 11 that already have them.

READ MORE: Crit’Air: Drivers face €750 fines in France’s new low-emission zones

The Crit’Air system requires all motorists – including the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles – going to any of the low-emission zones to get a sticker for their vehicle. The sticker assigns the vehicle a number from 0 (all electric vehicles) to 5 (the most polluting).

Some low emission zones will begin gradually banning more polluting cars. Paris, for instance, intends to ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles in July 2023, a move held back from July 2022.

READ ALSO Driving in France: How the Crit’Air vehicle sticker system works

Winter tyres

France introduced a law, the Loi Montage II (mountain law II), in 2020 making winter tyres, chains or socks compulsory in certain areas, which will finally come into effect in 2023.

The law makes either snow tyres, all-weather tyres or chains compulsory in 48 of France’s 96 mainland départements – generally those areas which are mountainous, with local authorities in those départements responsible for deciding where such rules will be applied.

READ ALSO Winter tyres and snow chains: What are the rules in France?

Insurance

Drivers in France may not have to worry about the little green stickers that they attach to their windscreen (windshield) soon, after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced plans to scrap them in favour of a digitalised system set to start in 2023.

The goal, according to the finance minister, is to simplify the process for drivers and reduce costs.

French car insurers, like France Assureurs, have been pushing for the piece of paper to be scrapped for some time.

READ ALSO France announces plan to scrap vehicle insurance windscreen stickers

Roadworthiness test for motorcycles

After some back and forth, the French council of the state decided in October that motorcycles (two-wheeled vehicles) would also need to comply with “roadworthiness” testing starting January 1st, 2023. This is part of a decree passed by the French government in August 2021, and it specifically concerns two-wheeled vehicles registered to dates prior to 2016. The council of the state specified that the vehicles concerned are “motor vehicles with two, three or four wheels with a cylinder capacity of more than 125 cm3.” As of December 2022, the details regarding how this plan will be implemented were not yet available, so it is possible enforcement measures will be staggered, according to reporting by Auto-Moto.

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