King Charles III of the United Kingdom starts a three-day state visit to France on Wednesday meant to highlight with great pomp both nations’ friendship, after the trip was postponed in March amid widespread demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension changes.
Charles and Queen Camilla will be greeted by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne at Paris-Orly airport, before heading to the city centre for a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in the presence of Macron and his wife, Brigitte.
The visit shows “the deep historical ties that unite our two countries. It is also an opportunity to showcase France's cultural, artistic and gastronomic excellence,” the French presidency said.
At the Arc de Triomphe, both nations’ hymns will be played before a review of French troops and a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to “mark the shared sacrifices of the past and an enduring legacy of cooperation,” according to Buckingham Palace.
The jet fighters of the Patrouille de France and Britain’s Red Arrows, the acrobatic teams of the countries’ air forces, will fly above the monument.
The presidential and royal couples will then head by car to the presidential palace, parading on the Champs-Elysees avenue.
Macron and Charles will hold a bilateral meeting, because the visit also “symbolizes the relationship of friendship and trust” between them since they both “have in the past worked closely together to protect biodiversity and combat global warming,” the French presidency stressed.
They will also have talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the migration issue as Italy’s southern island of Lampedusa was in recent days overwhelmed by people setting off from Tunisia.
While the UK royal family long ago ceded political power to the country’s elected leaders, the monarchy remains Britain’s preeminent ambassadors as presidents and prime ministers jockey to bask in the glamour and pageantry that follows them wherever they go.
The visit comes amid a recent warming in the French-British relationship after years marked by Brexit talks and related disputes.
A March bilateral summit saw Macron and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreeing on strengthening the military ties between their countries and stepping up efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel.
“We know that the British and French relationship has been difficult at times since 2016,” Ed Owens, a British monarchy historian, told The Associated Press.
“This move on the part of the British state to send the king to France is about reassuring the people of France, but also the people of the UK that this is a relationship of significant important and that it is based on history, heritage and that there are many other things in our shared futures that connect us.”
A state dinner on Wednesday in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles in the presence of more than 150 guests will be one of the highlights of the visit.
On Thursday, Charles will address French lawmakers at the Senate, providing a new venue for the king to show off his language skills after he wowed his audience by switching seamlessly between German and English during a speech to Germany’s parliament in March.
He will later rejoin Macron in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral to see the ongoing renovation work aimed at reopening the monument by the end of next year.
UK Ambassador Menna Rawlings, speaking on French news broadcaster LCI, said that Charles was “very sad” after the monument’s spire and roof collapsed in a blaze in 2019. It reminded him of the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle, she added.
“Of course it's an incredible moment for him to have the opportunity, with the queen, to look at this (renovation) work and also meet the firemen who were involved,” she said.
Charles and Macron will also both attend a reception for British and French business leaders about financing climate-related and biodiversity projects.
The king will end his trip on Friday with a stop in Bordeaux, home to a large British community. He will meet emergency workers and communities affected by the 2022 wildfires in the area and visit the Forêt Experimentale, or experimental forest, a project designed to monitor the impact of climate on urban woodlands.
He will also tour a vineyard, which has pioneered a sustainable approach to wine making. (AP) NPK