The British monarch called for “reinvigorating” the friendship between the two countries, after years of tensions linked to Brexit. But in times of inflation, the means deployed by Paris for this royal visit make people cringe.
Blue lobster, Bresse poultry, rose macarons… A sumptuous dinner was organized in Versailles (Yvelines), Wednesday September 20, in honor of King Charles III on a state visit to France for three days. During this reception, where many personalities were present (Mick Jagger, Hugh Grant, or even Charlotte Gainsbourg), the British monarch and Emmanuel Macron toasted “friendship” between their two countries.
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A few hours earlier, Charles III and his wife Camilla had prayed in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, before walking down the Champs-Elysées. Initially scheduled for March, this state visit was to be Charles III’s first trip abroad as king, but it had to be canceled due to demonstrations against pension reform. However, six months later, while inflation persists in France and associations are warning of increasing precariousness, the means deployed for this royal trip still arouse criticism.
The Palace of Versailles to make France “shine”
According to the Elysée, the choice of dinner at Versailles responds above all to a wish of Charles III, “sensitive to the idea of following in his mother’s footsteps”. Elizabeth II was in fact the most received foreign head of state at Versailles. In 1948, when she was still a young crown princess, she was invited to the castle with her husband Philip. France had already pulled out all the stops for the event. On the menu: Bohemian briochines, Venetian-style salmon trout, Windsor glazed hams and Coppélia mousse, list Point. Once queen, Elizabeth II visited the Hall of Mirrors again in 1957. She went there again in 1972, when the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community.
“Since Queen Victoria, every time we have wanted to mark a special relationship with England, there has been a reception at the Palace of Versailles”observes to AFP the historian Fabien Oppermann, author of Versailles of presidents. Like General de Gaulle long before him, Emmanuel Macron also made the castle a leading diplomatic asset. He hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin there in May 2017 and chaired a European summit in March 2022.
For the Elysée, receiving at Versailles also marks a desire to “make France shine”. The castle, built by the Sun King, is one of the most visited tourist monuments in France in 2022, recalls The cross. “At Versailles, it is centuries-old France that receives, argues Fabien Oppermann. It’s really the history of France, as we imagine it, with the centralization of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the French Revolution, Louis-Philippe, Napoleon.” Versailles illustrates “the monarchical part of the French regime”, adds to franceinfo Isabelle Baudino, lecturer in British civilization at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon. The Republic, she continues, “inherited certain monarchical symbols, such as the centrality of the head of state within institutions”.
The king, as an instrument of British ‘soft power’
On both sides of the Channel, the trip was marked by the celebration of the ancient links between the two countries. Because since the United Kingdom left the European Union, the understanding has not been the most cordial between the two countries. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson regularly attacked France, whether over fishing quotas or trade rules applied to sausages.
Boris Johnson’s short-lived successor, Liz Truss, did not cut corners last year by responding “the jury is still deliberating” to the question of whether Emmanuel Macon was a friend or an enemy. However, in recent months, relations have improved between Paris and London with the new occupant of 10 Downing Street, Rishi Sunak, who, like the French president, is a former investment banker. On March 10, a Franco-British summit was held at the Elysée, a first after five years of tensions. Paris and London had insisted on “renewal” of their alliance.
“This royal visit [qui devait se tenir fin mars] was a continuation of this warming”recalls Isabelle Baudino. “The Crown in this context becomes an instrument of ‘soft power’ at the disposal of the government, making it possible to strengthen diplomatic relations”emphasizes to The cross Philip Kyle, author of a biography of Charles III.
A joint desire to “green” politics
As head of state of a constitutional monarchy, Charles III must observe strict reserve. However, politics is never absent from these state visits. For the monarch, the objective is above all to show his commitment as “an environmentalist king outside British borders”, estimates Ed Owens, royal historian, from AFP. When he was Prince of Wales, Charles III distinguished himself by his positions in favor of environmental protection and concretized his commitment through multiple projects.
In this wake, the king goes to Bordeaux on Friday, which was for a time under the control of his distant predecessor Henry II, and where 39,000 Britons now reside. He is to visit a vineyard there and meet firefighters who took part in the fight against the fires which ravaged the Landes department last year. He must also go to the Floirac experimental forest (Gironde), a project intended to study the effects of climate change.
“On the United Kingdom side, this visit is above all a communication exercise, because the British are going through an economic crisis and have little interest in it,” points out Isabelle Baudino. “It’s about showing beautiful images: that of a king who celebrates friendship with France, who is committed to the environment”, supports the researcher. On the French side, “the ‘greening’ of Charles III allows Emmanuel Macron to also position himself on the subject, and to put it on the agenda of international discussions”, she adds.
The risk of appearing “disconnected” for Emmanuel Macron
This pomp displayed by the republic for a monarch, however, raises eyebrows within the political class, while the French are still suffering marked inflation. Alexis Corbière, La France insoumise deputy for Seine-Saint-Denis, denounced on Public Senate “misuse” by Emmanuel Macron from “ultrapresidentialism” and of “all the tricks” to embody it. “In the current social context, with the difficulties affecting a large part of the French, a little sobriety would not have done any harm.LFI coordinator Emmanuel Bompard told Franceinfo.
“Very good, we welcome Charles III, but we don’t forget the French who are starving”mocked Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of Debout La France. “What is the use of Charles III and Camilla, apart from spilling the tabloids’ ink?” has interviewed on BFMTV Nathalie Arthaud, former Lutte Ouvrière candidate in the presidential election.
“This image, in this context, is obviously fundamentally harmful for Emmanuel Macron, even if there are diplomatic imperatives behind it which also play a role”analysis from AFP Benjamin Morel, lecturer in public law at the University of Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, recalling that the period of September 20 is also associated with the birth of the Republic in 1792. “The date is not good, the image is not good, and it refers to a rather particular sequence, the pension reform”he said.
The pension crisis has since subsided and the President of the Republic is trying to relaunch his second five-year term, after a difficult start. But the French’s distrust of him remains deep. “He can be considered competent, embodying the international aspect well, but he also appears proud, pedantic and disconnected”judge Benjamin Morel.