French equality body sounds alarm over extension of COVID-19 pass

Thousands of protesters gather by the Louvre pyramid during a demonstration against the COVID-19 vaccination in Paris, France, 17 July 2021. In a recent TV statement, French President Emmanuel Macron announced France will extend the use of its Vaccinal Passeport to cultural place, transport, restaurant, etc, after Covid-19 infections soared this week because of the more infectious Delta variant. [EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT]

This article is part of our special report EU equality bodies and the fight against racial discrimination.

France’s equality agency, Défenseur des droits, has published a 10-point opinion paper raising concerns about the controversial extension of COVID-19 pass, which is now pending approval by the Constitutional Council on 5 August following approval by the French parliament.

You can also read this article in Romanian

President Macron announced the extension of the COVID-19 pass on 12 July to combat the spread of the delta-variant, including making COVID-19 jabs compulsory for healthcare professionals, prompting widespread controversy. 

The Défenseur des droits, a constitutionally independent authority, published a public opinion on Tuesday (20 July). While recognising the importance of vaccination in the fight against the pandemic, they “question both the method and the proportionality of most of the provisions and restrictions in the text.”

The paper raises a number of concerns, including the need for a democratic debate on the rules, restrictions on access to public transport and goods and services, extended isolation measures and the prospect of compulsory vaccination for some work categories.

The Défenseur des droits is competent in four different areas: the rights of the users of public services, the defence of children’s rights, the non-discrimination and promotion of equality, and the issue of ethics in security services. Moreover, the body is mandated to address the improvement of access to rights and promote equality.

The body saw an increase in security ethics cases of 10.5%, according to their annual report, suggesting that the pandemic and lockdowns have impacted citizens’ freedom.

“The Défenseur des droits insists on the need to regularly re-evaluate the system in light of the health situation so that the restrictions only last as long as is strictly necessary to manage the crisis, and that measures adopted in a hurry are not perpetuated,” the public opinion said.

They have already received numerous complaints since the announcement of the introduction of the COVID-19 pass, “all of which illustrate that the haste and the difficulty of understanding certain provisions are likely to hinder the exercise of rights and freedoms in a manner that is not proportionate to the objective pursued.”

Powers of inquiry and intervention

Equality bodies were created across the EU following the 2000 Race Equality Directive. The Equinet Network, meanwhile, enables members to share their expertise at European level.

Like other countries, France has extended this directive to all discrimination provided for by the law. The French institution, led by Claire Hédon since July 2020 on a 6-year mandate, has powers of inquiry and powers of intervention.

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Without measuring and quantifying the extent of discrimination and inequalities in Europe, it becomes very difficult to effectively tackle them, the EU’s first anti-racism coordinator, Michaela Moua, told EURACTIV.

You can also read this interview in Romanian

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