Emmanuel Macron has not been afraid to take tough decisions since taking office as president of France in 2017. So it has proven again during the coronavirus pandemic. Frustrated by his country remaining one of the most vaccine-skeptical in Western Europe, Macron reached for the big stick that no one else on the continent had dared introduce.
On July 21, 2021, it became compulsory for anyone boarding a flight or inter-city train in France to show a health pass proving they had either been fully vaccinated or tested negative. The same applies to entering business events, restaurants and bars among other establishments.
Other EU countries soon followed suit. Italy applied almost identical rules, while Germany insists on vaccination, proof of recovery or a negative test for local public transport and local public transport plus regional and long-distance trains. Restaurants and events are open only to those who are vaccinated or can show proof of recovery. Switzerland and Denmark do not require vaccine passes for transport but do require them for indoor venues.
Macron’s strategy worked. Vaccination rates in France soared from below 50 percent before the “green pass” was introduced to 76 percent by late November—ahead of both Germany and the United Kingdom. What remains to be seen is how Macron’s vaccine boldness will be judged politically. The next presidential elections are in April 2022, and critics from both the far right and left have lambasted the incumbent for what they position as his attacks on France’s republican principles of liberty and equality. Macron has emphasized instead the third principle: fraternity. Vaccination, he says, is a duty of every French person to protect their fellow citizens.
Meanwhile, Macron’s France took the lead on another major issue relating to business travel in 2021. In April, French lawmakers voted to ban all domestic air routes where the same journey can be made by train in less than 2.5 hours. Affected routes include Paris to Nantes, Lyons and Bordeaux, although there could have been more. The original proposal by the Citizens’ Convention on Climate, convened by Macron in 2019, had called for a ban on flights competing with train journeys up to four hours.
Similar proposals are under discussion in Spain and Germany, with the entry of the Greens into a new “traffic light” coalition federal government accelerating the prospect of this happening in the latter.