The King’s first state visit of his reign may be disrupted by the threat of French protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s retirement age reforms.
A lavish banquet at the Palace of Versailles hosted by President Macron could be moved or even cancelled according to reports following an increasingly angry public backlash to the French leader’s plans.
And union representatives of French workers responsible for ceremonial trappings, like red carpets, have said its members would not prepare a welcome for the King and Queen Consort when they arrive on Sunday.
“It’s very bad timing. Normally the French would welcome a British king. But in this moment, people protesting are on high alert for any sign of privilege and wealth,” said Paris-based writer Stephen Clarke, the author of Elizabeth II, Queen Of Laughs.
Tens of thousands of mainly peaceful demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on Thursday – the ninth day of nationwide protests – but violence erupted when French police clashed with black-clad, masked groups who targeted at least two fast food restaurants, a supermarket and a bank.
It is understood the trip’s logistics have been under review for some days but any security considerations could reduce interactions with the public and lessen the impact of the visit aimed at strengthening ties between the UK and its continental neighbour.
The trip, which is followed by a state visit to Germany, has been in the planning by the UK and host nations for months, and its timing is fortuitous as it comes a few weeks after the UK’s relations with Brussels began to ease following the Windsor framework, the new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
The King and his wife will travel to the French capital Paris this weekend then visit Berlin from March 29-31 during a trip which a source said previously was planned in an “extraordinarily positive” atmosphere by all.
President Macron is facing renewed public anger for pushing through a bill raising the retirement age to 64 without a vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament.
With piles of uncollected garbage lining the French capital’s boulevards, observers say the optics could not be worse – for both Charles and his host, the president.
French labour union CGT union announced this week that its members at Mobilier National, the institution in charge of providing flags, red carpets and furniture for public buildings, would not help prepare a Sunday reception for the king upon his arrival in Paris.
“We ask our administration to inform the services concerned that we will not provide furnishings, red carpets or flags,” a CGT statement read.
The Elysee Palace, the French president’s official residence, has said non-striking workers would set up the necessary accoutrements for the trip.
Some opponents accuse the president of being out-of-touch, and Charles has come in for similar criticism and if the protests continue they threaten to overshadow the royal tour.
Sandrine Rousseau, a lawmaker from France’s Green Party, told French channel BFM TV: “Unbelievable. We are going to have Emmanuel Macron, the Republican monarch, welcoming King Charles III in Versailles, while the people in the street are demonstrating.”
“Of course” the King should cancel his visit, she added.
Asked whether the King should travel to France, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “We certainly don’t get into the realms of dictating that sort of thing to His Majesty. That will be a decision for them. I’m not aware of any plans to change the plan, but it’s very much a question for them.”
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, visiting police headquarters on Thursday night as fires still burned in some Paris neighbourhoods, gave assurances that security “poses no problem” and said Charles will be “welcomed and welcomed well”.
Highlights of the six-day, historic tour include Charles and Camilla joining their French hosts, President Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for a ceremony of remembrance and wreath laying at the Arc de Triomphe.
Afterwards, the foursome will be part of a procession down the Champs Elysees towards the Elysee Palace, the French president’s official residence, where they will sit down to talks.
Camilla and Mrs Macron will officially open the new Manet and Degas exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay while Charles gives an address from the senate chamber.
The King and Queen Consort will also visit Bordeaux, centre of the wine-growing region and home to many British residents, where they will visit an organic vineyard and Charles will meet emergency workers who tackled wildfires on the outskirts of the city last summer.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
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