The French, not known for their historic love of monarchs, have postponed the state visit of King Charles III after riots gripped the country.
The new king had been due to arrive in the French capital on Sunday, from where he was to undertake a three-day program of engagements designed to soothe relations between the two countries, which have been strained by Brexit and rows over immigration in recent years. It was to have been his first overseas state visit.
On Wednesday, in the face of violent protests at a raising of the retirement age being forced through parliament by President Emmanuel Macron, palace sources told The Daily Beast they were “keeping a close eye” on developments in the country.
Both sides publicly insisted the visit would go ahead, but on Friday morning, Macron said they were postponing the trip, after a nationwide “day of action” on Thursday saw barricaded streets, buildings set alight, refineries and ports blockaded, gas stations running out of fuel, and planes unable to take off while rubbish rotted uncollected in the streets.
Truck drivers have been staging their signature operations escargot (“snail operations”), where they drive at a crawl along major routes and through arterial junctions. They were joining millions of non-union and union members expressing their outrage at being required to continue working to the ripe old age of 64 before collecting a state pension. The retirement age was only increased from 60 to 62 in 2010.
Another “day of action” is now scheduled for Tuesday, when the king had been due to be in Bordeaux, where the town hall was partially set alight Thursday. The Elysée Palace, the French president’s official residence, said this new “day of action” was responsible for the decision to delay the king’s visit.
There were also increasing doubts about whether it would be possible to furnish the king with the requisite diplomatic niceties, after members of the union Mobilier National (“National Furniture”), who are in charge of providing flags, red carpets, and furniture for public buildings, said they would not help prepare a reception for the king upon his arrival in Paris on Sunday.
“We ask our administration to inform the services concerned that we will not provide furnishings, red carpets, or flags,” a statement from the French trade union CGT read.
Plans for a lavish state dinner at Versailles, perhaps the most famous signifier of French royal excess, was also going down poorly with the public: “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,” Sandrine Rousseau, a Green MP, told French channel BFM TV, according to The Guardian.
Comparisons with the 1789 revolution are never far from French minds at times of industrial discontent, and French newspaper of record Le Monde reported that one of the chants taking hold among protesters gathered around fires in the Place de la Concorde was: “Louis XVI, Louis XVI, they beheaded him; Macron, Macron, we can do it again.”