(The Hague) French President Emmanuel Macron was caught up in protests against his pension reform during a state visit to the Netherlands on Tuesday as he spoke on the future of Europe in front of students.

“Where is French democracy? shouted young protesters from the podium of the theater where he began his speech in The Hague, unrolling a banner on which was written in English “President of violence and hypocrisy”.

“You have millions of demonstrators in the streets”, they launched, while the French government has been confronted since the beginning of the year with a very strong contestation of its reform aiming to postpone from 62 to 64 years the age of retirement.

“This is a democracy and a democracy is exactly a place where you can demonstrate,” replied the head of state when he was able to speak again after a minute’s interruption.

But “the day you say to yourself ‘when I disagree with the law that has been passed or the people that have been elected, I can do whatever I want, because I myself decide the legitimacy of what I do, you put democracy at risk,” he continued.

His decision to use the “49.3” procedure, i.e. adoption of the text without a vote by engaging the responsibility of his government, ignited the protest in France, with demonstrations interspersed with violence with the police.

The president was also expected at the exit by about thirty young French people who chanted: “Macron, we are here […] Even if Macron does not want it, we are here”.

During his thirty-minute speech, Emmanuel Macron pleaded for greater autonomy for Europe in economic matters, but he did not return to his controversial remarks on China and Taiwan.

He insisted on the need to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, through reforms, and its industrial policy, which has long been “taboo in Europe”.

“We need this industrial policy because our competitors are interfering in the” European market, he insisted, calling for this to increase subsidies and “good incentives”.

His call for Europeans, in interviews given in China, not to be “followers” on Taiwan vis-à-vis Beijing or Washington as well as to “depend less on the Americans” in matters of defense sparked an outcry, as after some past statements on Ukraine.

Remarks interpreted as a distancing from Taiwan while the United States are themselves very engaged in Ukraine and which provoked strong reactions from certain leading American parliamentarians.

Eastern Europeans, long under the yoke of Moscow, also remain very attached to NATO and American protection, especially since the war in Ukraine, and look with suspicion at the European defense advocated by France.

“The alliance with the United States is an absolute foundation of our security which is based on two pillars, economic cooperation and in the field of defense”, hammered the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki before flying to Washington.

In a form of clarification, the French presidency stressed that Mr. Macron had never called on Europe to stand “equidistant” from the United States and China. “The United States is our allies, we share common values,” she insisted.

Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte were welcomed on Tuesday with military honors and national anthems at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam by King Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima for this first state visit by a French president to this country since 2000 .

Hundreds of people had gathered behind barriers to see the presidential couple pass.

The King and Queen of the Netherlands were to give a State dinner in their honor in the evening, with among the distinguished guests the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and the director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme, the two countries sharing the same passion for cycling and the Great Loop.

This state visit marks a rapprochement between the two countries since the decision in 2016 of the United Kingdom to leave the EU which reshuffled the cards within the Union. The Netherlands then lost a traditional ally on the European scene which led them to diversify their cooperation.