LONDON – King Charles III’s international debut fell apart on Friday when his trip to France was indefinitely postponed due to protests that threatened to spoil events at prestigious venues such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Palace of Versailles.
And while Charles will continue to visit Germany on Wednesday, the decision to bypass France takes away some of the luster from his first trip abroad as monarch, which was originally scheduled to be a six-day celebration of Britain’s relations with its biggest European ally.
But with demonstrators vowing to target the juvenile royal family as they demonstrate against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age, the planners had no choice but to cancel a visit that could have embarrassed the monarch.
“It’s a disgrace because it was the first state visit of a king and he should have thought carefully about who should be given the honour,” said Joe Little, editor of Majesty magazine.
On Friday, Macron said he had asked to postpone the visit “out of logic and friendship” because the prospect of protests had created an “abhorrent situation”. Buckingham Palace said Charles and Camilla, the queen’s wife, would travel to France “as soon as they find a date”.
But dividing the two visits dilutes one of the trip’s original purposes – to highlight the British government’s efforts to improve relations with the European Union after six years of squabbling over Brexit.
Ed Owens, an expert on the British royal family, said the French leg of the tour, in particular, was an opportunity for Britain to highlight the progress made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after the animosity sparked by his predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. . He lives in France.
During his six months in office, Sunak struck a deal with the European Union to resolve the long-running dispute over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and signed a deal with Macron to try to stop migrants crossing the English Channel in precarious conditions. . boats.
“What we would have seen with this visit, ideally, is the leaders of two democracies coming together in recognition of their shared values and their desire to work together and cooperate,” Owens said. “And at a time when there is war in Eastern Europe, at a time when we see the rise of authoritarian China, this kind of symbolism… is powerful.”
Delaying the trip was ‘the least bad option’, said Owens, author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932. 1953 amid protests that have disrupted public services and left the streets of Paris choked with uncollected rubbish.
Protesters said they plan to demonstrate at royal events, including the welcoming ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and a state dinner at the Palace of Versailles. In addition, unions have called nationwide strikes and protests on Tuesday, which could complicate security and travel arrangements for the royal couple’s trip to the western city of Bordeaux that day.
Robert Lacey, historian and author of several books on the royal family, said that this meant that the new monarch’s first big trip abroad had to take place in an unsightly place. The risk for Charles was that an event aimed at highlighting his importance as British head of state would make him appear weak and insensitive to the concerns of the French workers.
As an example of the importance of visuals on such visits, Lacey drew a comparison to Prince William and the Princess of Wales’ tour of the Caribbean last year, which was marred by images of colorful people linked to chain-link fences as the royal couple strolled past. .
Basically, the royals need state visits accompanied by adoring crowds to show the host country’s welcome. This cannot be guaranteed in France.
“The audience can applaud,” Lacey said. “But the audience can also jeer.
But Charles was not all lost.
The German leg of the trip continues and includes a full schedule of state events and more intimate appearances designed to emphasize his role as head of state and highlight the causes he cherishes, such as sustainability and the environment, ahead of his coronation in May. 6.
Charles and Camilla will now begin their journey on Wednesday in Berlin, where they will be greeted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the historic Brandenburg Gate.
On Thursday, the king is scheduled to deliver a speech in the Bundestag, meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz and talk to refugees and the Ukrainian army. He’s flying to Hamburg on Friday, where he’ll visit the Kindertransport memorial for Jewish children who fled Germany to Britain during the Third Reich, and attend a green energy event before returning to the UK.
Royal expert Ariane Chernock, who spoke before the French leg of the trip was cancelled, said the official visits will help people understand that Charles is now king.
“We’re still getting used to Charles in this new role,” said Chernock, professor of modern British history at Boston University. “This visit affords him that platform to get to know us better, to establish himself as King Charles III, and again, in a way that will set the tone for the coronation and prove, I think, that he has a serious ability. To engage in questions of really substance which will serve him well. Well, probably , in his turn.