Amsterdam: Protesters noisily disrupted French President Emmanuel Macron during a speech about Europe’s future Tuesday as his domestic troubles intruded on his state visit to the Netherlands.
“Where is French democracy?” shouted the banner-waving demonstrators as Macron, who has faced violent protests at home over pensions reforms, addressed a largely student audience at a theatre in The Hague.
The first state visit to the Netherlands by a French president for 23 years was also clouded by a row over controversial comments that Macron made about Taiwan, the United States and China.
Macron is confronting the biggest challenge of his second term after pushing through his flagship pension overhaul, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
The demonstrators had stood in an upper tier of the theatre and shouted “You have millions of protesters in the streets” while holding up a banner that read “President of Violence and Hypocrisy”.
After security guards removed them, Macron said people who try to undermine laws passed by elected governments “put democracy at risk”, citing the 2021 US Capitol riots and a 2023 attack on the Brazilian Congress.
The pomp and ceremony of the visit later continued regardless, with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands hailing the 45-year-old French president at a state dinner in Amsterdam.
“Reform is not simple,” the monarch said as he toasted his guest after a meal of asparagus soup with grey shrimp, followed by beef tournedos in a red wine sauce and a dessert made of traditional Dutch sweets.
“For us, for Europe and the whole world, it is vital that France is strong, prosperous and confident.”
Macron’s speech earlier made no mention of Taiwan, sticking instead to themes of Europe’s need to look after its own interests.
“Being more sovereign” was “critical in this period of time where we have war and the economy is being weaponised”, particularly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Macron.
The Ukraine war had “opened probably one of the most perilous times of our European Union”, he added.
Macron had sparked controversy in recent days after he said in an interview with media including Politico and French business daily Les Echos that Europe should not be “followers” of the United States or China when it came to Taiwan.
The remarks drew praise in China - which bristles at US support of what it sees as a breakaway province - but raised eyebrows among Western allies.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the alliance with the United States was an “absolute foundation” of European security.
US Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, said on Twitter that “we need to find out if Emmanuel Macron speaks for Europe”.
And in a rambling interview on Fox News, former US president Donald Trump said the US had lost influence in the world since he left office to such an extent that “Macron, who’s a friend of mine, is over with China...”.
The Elysee Palace insisted Tuesday that the president had never called for Europe to keep an “equidistance” from the United States and China.
Macron’s Dutch visit continues on Wednesday with a trip to the sold-out exhibition of painter Johannes Vermeer’s works at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and talks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a canal boat.
He will also view a science park and sign a “pact for innovation” focusing on cooperation in semiconductors, quantum physics and energy.
Macron’s visit is meant to highlight a new dynamic between Paris and The Hague after Brexit, when the Netherlands lost its strongest ally in Europe.
They will also work to finalise a defence pact by 2024.