No red carpet? French unrest impacts King Charles III’s trip
PARIS (AP) – Unrest in France is tarnishing the luster of King Charles III’s first overseas trip as monarch, with striking workers literally refusing to roll out a red carpet amid pension reform protests and calls for the visit to be canceled completely.
The British monarch is scheduled to make the trip starting Sunday on behalf of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, which had hoped a glamorous royal tour would highlight efforts to rebuild Anglo-French ties that were damaged by the United Kingdom’s decision to left the European Union.
But anger over French President Emmanuel Macron’s determination to raise the retirement age by two years is clouding what should have been a show of civility and friendship. Instead, Charles’ visit is being seen as an unnecessary display of hereditary privilege.
“It is a very bad moment. Normally the French would welcome a British king. But at the moment, the protesting people are on high alert for any sign of privilege and wealth,” said Paris-based writer Stephen Clarke, author of “Elizabeth II, Queen of Laughter.”
With piles of uncollected rubbish on the once-pristine boulevards of the French capital, observers say the optics could not be worse – for both Charles and his host Macron.
The French CGT labor union announced this week that its members at the Mobilier National, the institution responsible for providing red carpets, flags and furniture for public buildings, would reject a Sunday reception for the king upon his arrival in Paris.
“We ask our administration to inform the services concerned that we will not be providing furnishings, red carpets or flags,” a CGT statement said.
The Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French president, said non-striking workers would instead set up the necessary equipment for the trip.
Months in the making, Charles’ lavish March 26-29 itinerary with Queen Consort Camilla includes a visit to the Musee d’Orsay, a wreath-laying ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and a lavish dinner at the former royal residence, the Palace of Versailles. .
“They are planning to go to Versailles. It does not look good. This looks very 1789,” said author Clarke. Luxurious Versailles, once the dazzling center of royal Europe and a focal point of the French Revolution, is an enduring symbol of social inequality and excess.
Macron is facing a public backlash for pushing through a bill raising the retirement age to 64 without a parliamentary vote. Some opponents accuse the president of being out of touch, and Charles has not been spared similar criticism as protests continued this week.
“Unbelievable! We will have Emmanuel Macron, the republican monarch, welcoming King Charles III to Versailles… while people are demonstrating in the streets,” Sandrine Rousseau, a lawmaker from France’s Green Party, told French channel BFM TV. Of course” the king should cancel his visit, she added.
To limit the possibility of disruptions to the royal dinner, security is expected to be very tight around Versailles. In 2020, demonstrators clashed with police on its royal cobblestones amid an earlier pension reform bill.
The riots and demands that Charles stay away are sure to cause concern in London. When he was on a walk in York, England, in November, someone in a crowd of angry protesters threw eggs at him.
The French have had a love-hate relationship with royalty since they guillotined King Louis XVI in 1793. Queens have usually fared better since then. Queen Elizabeth II, Charles’ mother, was a hugely popular figure in France, the European country she visited most before her death last year.
Elizabeth, who spoke fluent French, made five state visits to France, in 1957, 1972, 1992, 2004 and 2014, as well as unofficial and private visits. Her son now holds the crown, but remains in her shadow.
“The problem with Charles is that he is not the queen. She was very loved here,” said Paris resident Geraldine Duberret, 62. “Charles doesn’t have such a good reputation here. He looks a little spoiled.”
The tabloid press in France recently focused on unconfirmed rumors that the king would travel with an excessive number of servants, comparing him to his late mother, who famously insisted that her staff turned off the lights at Buckingham Palace to save electricity.
“This visit was a chance for Charles to reinvent himself in the eyes of the French,” Clarke said. “It could be like a blank canvas, but he probably wouldn’t be able to have the impact he would have wanted.”
Charles has some respect in France for his environmental activism. The king and queen consort plan to visit areas of France’s Bordeaux region that were last year devastated by wildfires blamed on global warming.
The couple’s time in southwestern France also gives them a chance to see vineyards and taste the region’s famous wines, including a planned stop at Bordeaux’s Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a vineyard and winemaker.
Regional officials are tight-lipped about the reception for the British royal family, a stark contrast to the reception Charles and Camilla could be preparing for in Paris.
“It is very touching that Charles plans to come to Bordeaux. We have a very strong – and historic – relationship with the United Kingdom. The region remained English for three centuries. It’s in our DNA,” said Cecile Ha of the Bordeaux Wine Council.
Ha said Bordeaux winemakers were “on the same page” as King Charles.
“In Paris, they do politics. But here in Bordeaux, we like Charles because we share the same strong commitment to sustainability.”
Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
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