King Charles III will be met by piles of rubbish, a lack of flags and red carpets and extra security surrounding a lavish state dinner at Versailles on his first trip to France as monarch beginning Sunday, with critics calling for his visit to be cancelled altogether.
However the timing for an opulent state visit could not be worse as it comes amid widespread protests in France over President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the state pension age from 62 to 64, without a vote in the National Assembly.
“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.
The trip, from March 26-29 has been months in the making and will see the King and Queen Consort, Camilla, visit Musee d’Orsay, attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and enjoy a lavish dinner at the former royal residence, the Versailles Palace.
This week French labour union CGT announced its members from 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. Instead, the Elysee Palace, which is the official home of the French president, said those not on strike would set up for the trip.
Paris has made headlines around the world in recent weeks as piles of uncollected rubbish line the streets as workers at city incinerators and collection services go on strike. On Wednesday Buckingham Palace admitted that protests may “impact on logistics” for the trip.
“We are keeping a close eye on the situation, and are taking advice from the FCDO and the French side,” a Buckingham Palace source told Reuters, referring to the British foreign ministry. “There may be an impact on logistics.”
The decision to dine at Versailles, renowned as the one-time centre of royalty and home of King Louis XVI who was executed by guillotine during the French revolution, will also come under scrutiny and be subject to extra security measures.
“They’re planning on going to Versailles. It does not look good. This seems very 1789,” author Mr Clarke said.
“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 lawmaker from France’s Green Party, told French channel BFM TV. “Of course” the king should cancel his visit, she added.
Making things worse for King Charles is the fact Mr Macron is often characterised as aloof and out of touch, with an imperious manner. The new King is struggling to match the popularity his late mother, Queen Elizabeth, II enjoyed. French media have focused on reports the King would travel with a number of servants in recent days.
“The problem with Charles is that he is not the queen. She was very loved here,” Paris resident Geraldine Duberret, 62, said. “Charles does not have such a good reputation here. He seems a bit spoiled.”
Mr Clarke said the trip was a chance for him to “relaunch himself in the eyes of the French.”
“It could have been like a blank canvas, but he will likely not be able to have the impact he would have wished.”
One potential highlight will be a visit to the Bordeaux region in a bid to highlight the King’s environmental streak. There will be a planned stop at Bordeaux’s Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a vineyard and winemaker, with regional officials excited about the prospect.
“It’s very touching that Charles plans to come to Bordeaux. We have a very strong relationship – and historic – with the UK The region stayed English for three centuries. It’s in our DNA,” said Cecile Ha of the Bordeaux Wine Council.
“In Paris, they do politics. But, here in Bordeaux, we like Charles because we share the same strong commitments to sustainability.”