(CN) — French politics are heating up as large protests and lawsuits break out over new rules that essentially make vaccination compulsory to take part in social life in France.
Over the weekend, more than 100,000 people took to the streets to decry French President Emmanuel Macron's tough new rules that require proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter cafes, restaurants, churches, trains, shopping centers, cinemas, sports stadiums and many other public places. Two vaccination centers were also targeted by vandals.
Starting on Wednesday, some French venues that hold more than 50 people will start asking people to show so-called digital “health passes” that certify a person's vaccination status. Macron has also made it mandatory for all health workers to get vaccinated.
France, the birthplace of Louis Pasteur and his vaccine breakthroughs, is ironically also a land where many people express deep reservations about vaccines and, until more recently, where a majority were opposed to taking a vaccine against the novel coronavirus ravaging every corner of the world.
But, as the rest of Europe has seen, vaccine hesitancy has largely vanished in a French population fed up with lockdowns, masks, and the fear of getting sick and even dying from Covid-19. France has one of the highest death tolls in Europe from the pandemic: More than 111,490 deaths have been linked to the virus.
For the most part, the protesters represent the fringes of French society, and news reports and polls suggest the vast majority of French support Macron's mandatory vaccine policy as an effective measure to prevent the country plunging into yet another lockdown. Infections are on the rise in France, especially in tourist towns in southern France. Masks are once again becoming mandatory even outdoors in many tourist towns.
Nonetheless, Macron's rules are controversial and may end up being thrown out by the courts. Lawsuits challenging their constitutionality are being filed by a hospitality industry worried about losing clients and by opposition politicians.
On Tuesday, Macron's health minister, Olivier Veran, presented the proposed rules to France's lower chamber, the National Assembly. Macron's neoliberal party, the Republic on the March, has a majority, and the legislation is expected to pass by the end of the week.
Still, Macron's draconian approach to vaccines may end up hurting him as he starts his campaign for reelection next April.
Both the far-left and the far-right factions — there is Jean-Luc Melenchon's France Unbowed on the far left and Marine Le Pen's National Rally on the other side — are attacking Macron for enforcing health passes.
“We are not in a dictatorship but there is a form of authoritarianism in the country,” said Alexis Corbiere, a deputy with France Unbowed and a spokesman for the party, according to Le Parisien newspaper. “Fundamental freedoms are today called into question.”
He said France Unbowed supports vaccination, but that Macron's measures go too far and will end up alienating people who don't want to get vaccinated.
“We must try to convince and not exclude people who are reluctant to get vaccinated,” he said.
Macron is no stranger to controversies and protests, and his new measures immediately brought people back onto the streets.
Last week, protesters, most of them young people, were seen attacking government buildings in Paris, and riot police deployed smoke to break up bombs marches against the so-called “anti-freedom” bill.
Macron's presidency has been marked by public distaste, and even anger, over his sweeping, many say arrogant, attempts at overhauling French society and government.
Ahead of April elections, he remains unpopular and his hopes for reelection are uncertain, though he remains the favorite, mostly due to political fragmentation and disillusionment with French politics, particularly with the traditional powers on the left and right, namely the Socialist Party and Les Republicains.