The first trip abroad that a monarch makes after acceding to the throne is loaded with symbolism. Carlos III had chosen France, first, and Germany, later, a clear declaration of intent to emphasize that, after turbulent years marked by Brexit, London wants to start a new era with the EU. But it could not be. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has asked Downing Street this Friday to cancel the state visit of the King of England due to the outbreak of violence suffered by the country as a result of the pension reform decree. The Élysée Palace has explained that the decision has been taken due to the day of mobilizations scheduled for next Tuesday and after the episodes of violence unleashed during the general strike this Thursday, the worst since the mobilizations began in January.
Emmanuel Macron would have liked to receive his guests, Carlos III and the queen consort, Camilla, in a completely different context this Sunday. But it could not be. The large protests over the controversial pension reform that the French president has approved by decree to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 have forced the visit to be suspended. From the Élysée they consider that the protesters are willing to take advantage of the occasion to put even more pressure on the politician, whom they accuse of having imposed a monarchical approach to the presidency of the republic.
On Monday, a gala dinner was scheduled at the Palace of Versailles that was considered by the activists as an insult to the striking workers. Of course, symbolism, as a parliamentarian from Macron’s centrist coalition anonymously assured the French press, “is difficult to handle.” While still a royal palace, Versailles was overrun by mobs during the Revolution of 1789 when King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were forced to relocate to central Paris. They were guillotined four years later after a failed attempt to flee the capital.
During the trip, Charles III was scheduled to open an exhibition of works by Edouard Manet and Edgar Dégas, the 19th-century French Impressionists, at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and address members of both houses of the French Parliament. The monarch and his wife were also due to take a train to Bordeaux on Tuesday, which included a visit to Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a prestigious organic vineyard, to highlight their commitment to the environment.
Buckingham Palace had already advanced in recent days that the plans were “under review”. However, the current problems in France do not diminish the main message: the arrival of Rishi Sunak in Downing Street has changed everything. And both the United Kingdom and France will look for other dates to resume the symbolic state visit.
Despite a marked euroscepticism since his school years, Rishi Sunak is above all pragmatic and moderate. The EU has found a partner in whom he finally feels he can trust. Hence, it has now been possible to seal the `Windsor Framework´, the final piece to conclude, now yes, the historic divorce. Although the most direct impact of the new agreement is centered on Northern Ireland, it has a broader significance for relations between the United Kingdom and the bloc.
During the tenure of the eccentric Boris Johnson, no progress was made. What’s more, given the controversy created by the new customs controls that must now be carried out in the British province, ‘blonde ambition’ even threatened to unilaterally violate what was agreed with Brussels. The ‘Windsor Frame’ would not have been possible. And far from it, the state trip of Carlos III to Paris.
The personal animosity that existed between Johnson and Macron went beyond the Brexit tensions, which led to one of the worst crises in the bilateral relations of both countries since the ‘entente cordiale’ agreements of 1904.
Everything was a cause for conflict, from the vaccine war to the diplomatic battle in Jersey -with two military patrol boats included- with remnants of the ‘New Waterloo’. Macron viewed Johnson as “a clown”, a deceitful and unreliable partner. And let’s say that Boris was somewhat amused by provoking him. “Donnez-moi un break” (give me a break) he stressed after the dispute created with the signing of the AUKUS defense pact between the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, which led to Paris to lose a major contract of 90,000 million euros with Canberra for the sale of at least a dozen submarines.
With Sunak the spirits have calmed down. When the new British Prime Minister and the French President met in person for the first time at the COP27 summit in Egypt last November, the choreography could not have been more perfect: effusive hugs and wide smiles. The good harmony has allowed both to close a migration pact this month to face the crisis of the English Channel in the first bilateral summit that was held in five years.