Macron criticised for reopening theme park while theatres remain closed

Kim Willsher
Photograph: Sebastien Salom-Gomis/AFP/Getty Images

A row has broken out in France over the government’s decision to allow certain theme parks and other outdoor attractions to open while insisting festivals and theatres remain closed or cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

It erupted after Emmanuel Macron announced he was personally sanctioning the reopening of the Puy du Fou, a popular historical theme park in the Vendée in western France, that attracts 2.3 million visitors a year. The park is run by the president’s royalist friend Philippe de Villiers, a Eurosceptic nationalist who has been criticised for his anti-Islam and anti-abortion views.

Macron’s decision to single out the Puy du Fou for particular treatment – after weeks of pressure from De Villiers, according to French reports – has led to accusations of double standards, populism and favouritism.

Critics said the decision jarred with a ban until September on all cultural and sporting events attracting more than 5,000 people, even those taking place outdoors, citing the cancellation of the Avignon theatre festival and other major annual artistic and musical gatherings.

Coronavirus deaths in France - graph

Many parks, gardens and beaches remain closed because of fears of the further spread of Covid-19 and the French government has refused repeated requests from Paris’s Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, to reopen parks and gardens to city-dwellers who spent the eight-week lockdown cooped up in apartments without terraces or balconies.

Raphaël Glucksmann, a writer, journalist and MEP for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, accused Macron of acting like a prince: “Pity the Avignon festival director isn’t a rightwing friend of His Majesty,” he wrote.

Aurélie Filippetti, a former socialist culture minister, was also angered by the decision, describing it as handing De Villiers a “monstrous pass key” and said the decision was “shameful”.

Bastien Lachaud, of the hard-left La France Insoumise, tweeted: “For #Macron thousands of restaurant and hotel owners can wait, but not the Puy du Fou belonging to his friend Philippe de Villiers.”

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Unlike the Paris region, which is still red on France’s Covid-19 map, suggesting the virus is still actively circulating and hospitals are under pressure, the Vendée is green.

Maryline Martin, the owner of the Guédelon medieval site, a popular tourist attraction in Burgundy where a 13th-century castle is being built from scratch, said the row was “ridiculous”.

“I am part of the tourism ministry’s commission and we’ve all been talking about heading towards opening again. It’s an economic decision not a political one,” she said.

“La Puy du Fou is in a green area and everyone knew it was going to be allowed to open along with certain châteaux and gardens, so I don’t understand what the fuss is about or why the Puy du Fou needed to make such a song and dance about it.”

Martin said Guédelon, which attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year, will open on 11 June.

“We are adapting our site to take into account the necessary health measures. I suppose I could stay closed and let the state pay me and the staff, but that’s not the way I think.”

Disneyland Paris and Parc Astérix, both in the red-flagged Île de France departement, will remain closed until further notice. Both hope to open in July at the latest.