King Charles III will make a long-awaited trip to France from Wednesday, six months after unrest and strikes in the French countryside forced the last-minute postponement of his first state visit as monarch.
The three-day trip of the 74-year-old British head of state and Queen Camilla begins on Wednesday in Paris and ends in Bordeaux, with an almost identical program to that planned in March.
There will be celebratory events with President Emmanuel Macron, whose pension reform this year sparked social unrest, but also more informal meetings with the population.
The royal couple, President Macron and his wife Brigitte, are welcomed at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where they lay commemorative wreaths before beginning a procession along the Champs-Élysées.
The President and First Lady will offer Charles and Camilla a banquet at Versailles, the palace west of Paris, symbol of the French monarchy but also of the bloody Republican Revolution of 1789.
Another highlight will be King Charles’ speech, likely in French, to lawmakers in the Senate.
Several of the engagements revolve around topics that both couples represent, such as the environment and sustainability, education or the entrepreneurial spirit of young people.
There will also be meetings with the local community and sports stars in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, home of the nation-state where the 2024 Olympics will be held.
The monarch then travels to Bordeaux, a city in southwest France that was ruled by his predecessor Henry II in the 12th century and is now home to 39,000 British emigrants.
There, you’ll visit organic vineyards and meet firefighters battling wildfires exacerbated by climate change.
On both sides of the Channel, the visit is seen as a celebration of the centuries-old relationship between the two neighbors, whose politicians are trying to rebuild bridges after rows over Brexit.
The Entente has not been this cordial since the United Kingdom left the European Union.
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson often provoked France on everything from fishing quotas to trade rules for sausage exports.
In the dispute over fishing licenses, Johnson even sent two armed ships to the Channel Islands, a British Crown territory off the French coast.
Johnson’s short-lived successor Liz Truss did little to improve relations when she replied that the question of whether G7 and NATO ally Macron was a friend or an enemy was “still not decided”.
But current Downing Street tenant Rishi Sunak has forged better relations with his counterpart at the Elysee, with whom he shares a background in finance and a penchant for sharp suits and social networking.
As heads of state in a constitutional monarchy, British kings and queens must maintain strict political neutrality.
But politics is never neglected during state visits and this trip from Carlos accompanies Sunak’s friendlier strategy towards Paris.
Ed Owens, historian of the monarchy and writer, “are the ace in the hole of diplomacy (…) over current party politics”, such as the ongoing tensions between London and Paris over the crossing of migrants from the north of France across the English Channel to Great Britain.
“There will be some informal diplomacy,” Owens told AFP. For him, however, the ultimate goal is to present Charles “as an environmentalist king beyond British shores.”
After a first year on the throne marked by stability and continuity rather than radical reform, the visit provides “an approach to normality in royal diplomacy.”
Charles “has presented himself as a slightly more intimate figure, but the monarchy remains largely the monarchy of Elizabeth II,” he adds.
The monarch and Macron have met before, most recently during the king’s coronation in May, and are reported to have a “warm relationship.”
The Anglophile French president’s tribute to Elizabeth II following her death in September last year was well received in the UK. He then invited the new king to visit France during the state funeral.
Due to the postponement of the visit in March, the royal couple traveled to Germany, where they visited Berlin and Hamburg.