Europe's week: Macron's mission and Ukraine-Russia tensions continue

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during his visit to the Ukrainian border with Russia in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during his visit to the Ukrainian border with Russia in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Copyright Andriy Dubchak/AP
Copyright Andriy Dubchak/AP
By Euronews
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The French President said he wants to 'piss off' the unvaccinated till the 'bitter end', while an EU foreign policy chief visited Ukraine's Donbas region for the first time since the conflict began.


2021 was another year lost to the all-consuming pandemic and according to health experts, getting back to something resembling normal life depends in large part on following certain rules, one being getting vaccinated.

Frustration among elected leaders, whose job it is to get people jabbed, led to one notable outburst this week, as well as teaching the world some choice French vocabulary.

Emmanuel Macron vowed to "piss off" or "emmerder" his fellow Frenchmen until the bitter end if they keep refusing inoculation.

The French president's comments in a newspaper interview came on the day France reported another daily record with more than 271,000 COVID-19 infections, as the Omicron variant continues to drive a fifth wave of the virus.

They look set to politicise the debate over vaccinations still further, three months before the French presidential election.

Macron told Le Parisien that he had decided to act against the non-vaccinated, by "limiting as much as possible their access to social life activity".

"The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we will continue to do so, to the bitter end. That's the strategy," the head of state said. "When my freedom comes to threaten that of other people, I become irresponsible. An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen."

The president's language is being seen as an inversion of a comment by one of his predecessors Georges Pompidou, who said it was time to "stop pissing off the French people" in 1966 when he was prime minister.

"I am not going to put them in prison, I am not going to forcibly vaccinate them," Macron went on. "Therefore you have to say to them: from January 15 you can no longer go to a restaurant, you can no longer go for a drink, you can no longer go for a coffee, you can no longer go to the theatre, you can no longer go to the cinema," the president said.

Ukraine crisis

But vaccinations were not the only issue to spill over from last year.

In eastern Ukraine, troops remain on high alert, fearing a Russian invasion, leading Josep Borrell to visit the Donbas region - the first trip of an EU foreign policy chief there since the conflict erupted in 2014.

Washington and Moscow have excluded Brussels from diplomatic talks aimed at de-escalating the situation at the Ukrainian-Russian border and Borrell did not hide his exasperation on Wednesday.

"On this dialogue, there are not two actors alone. It's not just US and Russia. If you want to talk about security in Europe, Europeans have to be part of the table," he said.

The EU can't afford to be pushed out of the process, since any conflict in Europe's neighborhood has security implications for the bloc, and any economic sanctions could bite. However, member states remain divided on what to do.

During a trip to Washington DC, the new German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock issued another warning to the Kremlin.

"Russian actions and activities come with a clear price tag and a renewed violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia would have severe consequences," said Baerbock,

The main talks on Ukraine will take place between the US and Russia in Geneva next Monday - without European participation.

'Europe is weak'

When it comes to EU foreign policy, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference says that Brussels is not fit for purpose.


"There is no doubt that Europe is weak," Ischinger told Euronews. "We are a bunch of 27 nations where on trade we speak with one voice. But on foreign policy, everybody has a veto. In other words, it's very difficult for the European Union on almost all issues of foreign policy to really speak with one voice and to be respected as a respectable international actor.

"In other words, we cannot compete with nuclear powers and this is why I find it totally normal that there is now going to be an opening gambit, an opening set of discussions between the US and Russia.

"But one thing, of course, has to be clear: the future of European security cannot be decided over the heads of Europeans. It cannot be decided in the absence of those who are members of the European Union or European members of NATO."

Ischinger says the establishment of a European Chief Security Officer could help strengthen Brussels' foreign policy ambitions.

"Whenever there is a new law and rule proposed, somebody examines, is this rule compatible with our climate goals? Can we do what we promised on climate if we enact this particular legislation? So, my idea is before any future legislation or regulation is enacted by the European Union, let a chief security officer take a look at it and [say]...Is this particular project compatible with the [EU's] security interests?"

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