King Charles Has a Message for Paris: You’re Canceled

Unrest in France over Macron’s pension effort has officially gone international, as the British monarch postpones his trip.

Andrew Milligan/pool via AP
King Charles III on October 11, 2022. Andrew Milligan/pool via AP

In the clearest sign yet of President Macron’s plummeting influence, King Charles III has canceled a state visit to France because of widespread unrest in the country over an unpopular pension reform bill. The French president pushed the legislation through parliament without a vote earlier this month, sparking sometimes violent protests both at Paris and in towns and cities across France. 

The trip that Charles was originally scheduled to undertake on Sunday with the queen consort, Camilla, at his side has been indefinitely postponed. 

Mr. Macron, in response to a reporter’s question about whether the cancellation was a humiliation for France, said, “What would have been detestable for the British people, as well as for ourselves, would have been to maintain it with (possible) incidents in the process.” The remark seemed to indicate a feeling that mass strikes and periodic clashes between demonstrators and police might not only have marred the royal visit in general, but also posed a security risk to the British monarch. 

The visit of Charles and Camilla to France was to be the royal couple’s first official overseas visit since Charles assumed the throne following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth. Now, history will record that his first foray beyond the English Channel as king will be to Germany, not France. In effect, the second leg of their Continental journey set for Wednesday will now be the only one. Instead of background images of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe — around which uncollected garbage now sits because of the strikes —  Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate will be the first European monument to draw the royal arrival.

In a statement, Prime Minister Sunak said, “The king and queen consort’s state visit to France has been postponed,” adding that “this decision was taken with the consent of all parties, after the president of France asked the British government to postpone the visit.”

France continues to be rocked by violent protests over the bill, now set to become law, that will raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. At least one of the places that Charles was scheduled to visit, the flamboyant palace of Versailles, would have telegraphed poor optics and possibly inflamed public opinion at a time of rising cost of living and social turmoil.

As a measure of just how fraught travel in France is at the moment, protesters set the entrance to the city hall of Bordeaux on fire on Thursday. The blaze was quickly put out, but tensions are running high. Charles was supposed to visit Bordeaux, famous for its wine production, after the Parisian part of his now scotched itinerary. The famed Paris metro as well as French airports have also experienced disruptions, all of which are set to worsen if strikes at oil refineries continue or expand. 

In a roundabout way, the royal cancellation prompted a moment of reprieve for the French, many of whom are growing weary with weeks of crippling strikes and apprehensive about a drift toward chronic instability that Mr. Macron seems ill-equipped to manage. The newspaper Le Parisien, which is loosely the French equivalent of the New York Post, reported on the disappointment of the chefs who will now have to put on ice the “dream menus” they had formulated for Charles and Camilla. 

In the Versailles palace’s famous Hall of Mirrors, 150 guests were to have been seated around a 200-foot-long table set for an “exceptional banquet of excellence”  prepared by prestigious Michelin-starred chefs. The latter included Anne-Sophie Pic and her colleague Yannick Alléno, who since 2007 have been the recipients of three and 12 Michelin stars respectively. 

No doubt the British royals will dine well in Germany when they arrive in that country on Wednesday. But in France, the dichotomy presented by Mr. Macron’s choice of timing — entertaining the most famous monarch in the world at Versailles when the streets of Paris are piling up with uncollected garbage — will leave a sour taste in the mouths of many French political elites. 

He survived a vote of no-confidence in his government and will likely find a way to put a spin on this, but after the debacle of attempted dialogue with Vladimir Putin, a restive National Assembly, and a French public in open revolt, Mr. Macron increasingly looks less like a proud French rooster than a sorry plucked chicken. 

His opponents on both the left, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Unbowed, and on the right — chiefly Marine Le Pen of the National Rally — are ready for the feast.

The New York Sun

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