King Charles's French tram ride dropped due to strikes

The monarch and queen consort arrive in Paris on Sunday for a four-day trip

Prince Charles, now king, and French President Emmanuel Macron in central London in 2020. AFP
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Striking French tram operators will refuse to drive King Charles III to Bordeaux during his upcoming state visit as violent protests continue against the country’s changes to pension legislation.

The king and queen consort will arrive in Paris on Sunday for their first state visit to France, which was originally supposed to include a tram ride to the south-western city.

“It is almost certain that the king will not be able to take the tram, Pascal Mesgueni, a representative of the CFTC union, told the French newspaper Sud Ouest.

“No driver will want to transport the king.

“There will be supervisors or managers [willing] to do it but there will be people on the tracks. And they will have to protect him with vehicles in front and behind [the tram]," he said.

"Logistically, it's very heavy, to say nothing of the risk of projectiles. It's going to be much too complicated."

France has been rocked by violent protests and national strikes since early March over reforms to pensions, which will mean the retirement age being raised to 64 from 62.

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday refused to back down on the reforms even as more strikes and protests are planned.

"Do you think I enjoy making this reform? No," he said in his first comments since his government survived a confidence vote on the issue. "We must go ahead because it's in the higher interest of the nation."

But polls show a majority of voters oppose the plan, which will also increase the number of years people have to make contributions to qualify for a full pension.

Major traffic disruption is expected during the four-day state visit as the monarch moves between different locations in the city before travelling to Versailles on Monday.

"We are going to greet [Charles] with a good old general strike," said Olivier Besancenot, a spokesman for the radical New Anti-Capitalist Party.

France pension reform strikes - in pictures

Prominent Green MP Sandrine Rousseau said the upcoming visit by King Charles should be cancelled, telling news channel BFM TV it was "unbelievable" that the French President would dine with the monarch at the Versailles Palace outside Paris "while the people are protesting in the streets”.

"Of course he should cancel this visit. Is the priority really to welcome Charles III in Versailles,” she said.

Protesters have already scuffled with police in Versailles over the unpopular pension bill, with riot police blocking their path to the gilded palace built in the 17th century during the reign of King Louis XIV.

Buckingham Palace has said protests may affect plans for the four-day trip, which includes a state banquet with the French President.

The visit includes a trip to the Musee d'Orsay art gallery and dinner at the Chateau de Versailles. It includes events at the Arc de Triomphe before he travels by train to the south-western city of Bordeaux.

The French presidency said the king's schedule was still being finalised.

"We are keeping a close eye on the situation, and are taking advice from the FCDO and the French side, " the source said, referring to the British foreign ministry. "There may be an impact on logistics.”

BFM reported that all employees of the public order and traffic department have been ordered to work during the visit.

Last week, acting on Mr Macron's instructions, the country invoked an article in the constitution that adopted the contentious pension reform without a parliamentary vote.

The government narrowly survived a no-confidence motion on Monday, but the uproar has descended into the biggest domestic crisis of the second term for Mr Macron, first elected in 2017 with pledges to radically reform France.

Another day of national strikes is planned for Thursday and rubbish continues to pile up in the streets of Paris caused by stoppages by refuse collectors, while blockades at oil refineries continue.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 1:01 PM