King Charles III visits French territory with his wife, Queen Camilla, on his first state visit to France. For three days, between Paris and Bordeaux, the British sovereign visited his neighbors on the other side of the Channel. A highly symbolic meeting for the new king that redefines the contours of Franco-British friendship.
The complicity of Charles III and Emmanuel Macron
King Charles III’s state visit, his first as sovereign but his 35th in total, was obviously a way of assessing Franco-British friendship. Between the Elysée, the Senate, the tomb of the unknown soldier and a visit to Bordeaux, the royal couple’s stay was brief, intense but also friendly. During the descent from the Champs-Elysées, the duo Charles III and Emmanuel Macron also displayed a form of complicity, exchanging smiles, hugs and crowd baths. Although British etiquette prohibits touching the sovereign, President Macron did not hesitate to pat him on the back or give him a hug. Enough to make the British press roar. Another improbable image, this morning in Saint-Denis, the brief ping pong match between Queen Camilla and First Lady Brigitte Macron, a sequence that made the king smile.
President Emmanuel Macron hosted the couple at the Palace of Versailles on Wednesday evening for a grand dinner. Everything is ready to impress the British sovereign, French-speaking and Francophile. Everything possible was done for this exceptional event: a table sixty meters long, more than 150 guests paraded along the red carpet of the Royal Court of the Palace of Versailles.
While French gastronomy was in the spotlight – Charles III is a big fan of French cheese – the two leaders discussed important topics such as ecology, climate, biodiversity, trade and the situation in Ukraine.
Carlos III, a symbolic visit
Several doubts may arise about the interest of this visit. Since the power of King Charles III is essentially symbolic, what are the interests of France and the United Kingdom during this visit? Although the sovereign is not the sole owner of the decisions made in the United Kingdom, he is in constant discussion with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak. During his coronation on May 6, 2022, Charles III insisted that his reign be politically neutral. A complicated obligation, however, for the sovereign, accustomed to defending certain convictions, particularly in matters of the environment. When Charles III was Prince of Wales, his repeated interventions tended to annoy certain members of the government. According to Catherine Mayer, biographer of Charles III: “has always defended this interventionist dimension, the sovereign should be able to express himself on issues of a national or international order.”
Charles III plays a vital role on the diplomatic scene, he is the strong symbol of this United Kingdom attached to its monarchical traditions but also looking to the future. His influence is therefore of great interest to the French side, especially since the sovereign, like his mother and his grandmother before him, adores France and speaks fluent French.
A historic speech by Charles III before the Senate
After the sumptuous dinner at Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors and after a parade with great pomp on the Champs Elysees alongside Emmanuel Macron, Charles III visited the Senate this Thursday morning. No British sovereign has ever spoken in the chamber of a French assembly, a historic moment for Franco-British relations.
During his speech before a packed Senate, the sovereign declared: “The United Kingdom will always be one of France’s closest allies and best friends.” In an emotional tone, he confesses to having felt very moved by the tributes made in France, after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II: “The golden thread that my mother represented between our two nations will shine forever.” To conclude, the king insisted on the ties that unite the two countries in matters of sport, culture and expatriation on both sides of the Channel.
Brexit or not, the United Kingdom cannot distance itself from France
Although Britain is no longer part of the European Union, the country’s diplomatic and commercial interests lie primarily on the European continent, especially France. The United Kingdom is one of France’s most important trading partners. In 2022, the volume of transactions between the two countries amounts to a modest sum of 111 billion euros, an increase of 42% compared to 2021. Trade between the two countries being important, President Emmanuel Macron has a lot with this arrival of Charles III. to discuss exports of French products and services. The export of tricolor vehicles to the United Kingdom is a capital sector for France: it represents 11% of French exports in a year, that is, 3.8 billion euros. The second most exported category of French goods to the UK are manufactured items such as weapons and jewellery. Rail, sea and air transport occupies third place on the podium.
According to Thibaud Harrois, professor of British civilization, this visit by Charles III is the very symbol of the desire of Rishi Sunak’s Government to get closer to the countries of the European Union. This successful visit by Charles III is, in any case, one more step in the “renewal” of the Franco-British alliance already mentioned last March during the bilateral summit that brought together Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron.
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