King Charles to use state visit to France to address climate issues

On the delayed visit he will become the first British monarch to address the French Senate

King Charles III is scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, right, on his state visit to France. Getty Images
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One measure of the centuries of rivalry in Britain's relationship with France has been the languages of the two countries, but when King Charles III meets Emmanuel Macron next week, there will be no barriers to communication.

A close aide to the French president says the British monarch is “perfectly francophone” and Mr Macron has good English, so the means of conversation is whatever is most convenient.

Paris is preparing to welcome King Charles on a rescheduled first state visit to France, where the UK's monarch hopes to recreate the success of a trip to Germany earlier in the year.

With Britain and France grappling over the fallout from Brexit and the challenges of the migrants crossing the English Channel, the UK will be hoping the king’s visit will help to smooth ties that have been tested in recent years.

“The state visit will celebrate Britain’s relationship with France, marking our shared histories, culture and values,’’ said Chris Fitzgerald, deputy private secretary to the king.

“It will also provide an opportunity to look forwards and demonstrate the many ways the UK and France are working together, whether that be to promote and protect biodiversity, combat climate change, strengthen security and defence ties in response to the conflict in Ukraine or recognise outstanding cultural achievement.”

Earlier visit cancelled

The British king had intended to make France the scene of his first overseas visit in tribute to his close relationship with Mr Macron, forged through their shared focus on protecting the environment and fighting climate change.

That honour went to Germany when King Charles was forced to cancel the first leg in March due to fears that protests over strikes against Mr Macron’s economic policies would disrupt the pageantry.

But now both sides of the Channel will be hoping that the delay will make it possible to stage the pomp and ceremony of a state visit in the spirit of celebration rather than siege.

The two heads of state are expected to put environmental issues at the front of the agenda, with the king and Mr Macron sharing a long-standing mutual passion for the topic of climate change.

A shared platform at Cop26 first brought their joint devotion to green issues to the fore, followed by Mr Macron’s emotive words about Queen Elizabeth II after her death last September.

In his previous role as Prince of Wales, the monarch has been highly vocal on environmental matters but as head of state he now has to be more reserved – in public at least.

Senate address

In one of his first engagements, the king will become the first British monarch to address the French Senate, which is housed in Luxembourg Palace in Paris, where he will speak in front of 348 senators and other members of the National Assembly.

Royal commentator Dick Arbiter, a former press spokesman for Queen Elizabeth, does not expect his speech to be controversial.

“The environment is of interest to him but what we [will] hear at the Senate and the National Assembly will be very bland,” he told The National.

“What he has to say might be of interest but I do not believe he will go as far as treading on political toes.

“He is a travelled person, having done official visits, but this is his first official state visit to France and he will mind his Ps and Qs. He will not be as vocal as he was as Prince of Wales.”

Mr Macron shares his guest’s love of green issues and last year vowed to reduce air pollution, plant 140 million trees, fight for a European carbon tax and speed up greenhouse gas reductions.

He has campaigned on building a green economy and is proposing to build 50 offshore wind farms by 2030.

Buckingham Palace has said one of the issues the king will be tackling will be climate change and he is due to attend a sustainability reception for British and French business leaders with Mr Macron to hear more about their plans to invest in measures to protect biodiversity and combat climate change.

Climate on monarch's mind

The king will relish the fact one of his first state visits will highlight issues close to his heart, said royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliam.

“He will undoubtedly be happy his first state visit will involve environmental issues,” he told The National.

“He has campaigned about the environment since his first speech in 1969 and we know how deeply and strongly he feels about it and Mr Macron takes considerable interest in it.

“The king obviously has to keep out of party politics to avoid any controversy. It would be a surprise if he highlighted any issues without government approval. The king acts constitutionally on advice from his ministers. When he was Prince of Wales, he did his own job, but now the king would never make a speech that was not approved by the government.

“Maybe there will be talking around wind farms, but anything publicly said will have been government approved.”

He is scheduled to visit Bordeaux to meet emergency workers who helped battle against wildfires in the region. He will also meet residents affected by the disaster.

The scale of forest fires in France reached a record level last year, with more than 62,000 hectares of land destroyed.

“I’m sure the issue of climate change will be at the forefront of his mind when he sees first hand the devastation caused by the wildfires,” Mr Fitzwilliam said.

“The visit will be celebrating the working partnership between France and Britain and tackling climate change, and is looking at sustainability and climate.

“I think the choice of France for one of the first state visits is very significant.

“With recent negotiations with the EU, visiting France is of considerable importance at the moment. With the terrible war in Ukraine, European allies are important and this stresses the significance of the trip to France.

“At this time, the relationship between Britain and France has not been particularly good with the EU debate and disagreement on the Northern Ireland border, migration and fishing. There have been a variety of problems and, very clearly, the impact is considerable.

“But remember, Mr Macron made a remarkable tribute to the late queen which was considered very fitting and appropriate. So now, of course, there will be a lot of speculation on the banquet and Charles’s address to the senate.”

After the queen’s death that Mr Macron made one of the world's most impassioned tributes.

“To you, she was your Queen. To us, she was The Queen,” he said proudly.

During a reception for world leaders on the eve of the funeral Mr Macron offered the king an invitation to visit France as he spoke of his nation’s “deep affection” for the people of Britain.

During the state visit, Mr Macron is due to return the king’s hospitality when he hosts a glittering banquet in his honour at the historic Palace of Versailles.

It may not be on the same scale as his predecessor Henry VIII’s 1520 visit to France to meet Francis I – which was called the Field of the Cloth of Gold due to the luxurious tents and costumes made of silk and gold thread.

But it will involve another form of priceless treasure, with restoration work taking place after a storm devastated thousands of ancient trees, some planted by Napoleon and Marie Antoinette.

The two men are expected to touch on the energy centre being created at the palace as part of its €500 million ($534.8 million), 17-year restoration project taking place after the disaster in 1999, believed to have been linked to climate change.

While the king is involved in other state arrangements, Queen Consort Camilla will join Ms Macron to launch a new Franco-British literary prize at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Later in the itinerary, the royal couple will meet community sports groups and well-known sports stars, to show the benefits sport can bring, particularly to young people, as France hosts the Rugby World Cup.

Before his first official visit to Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier commented on the king’s decision to visit France and Germany.

“The fact that King Charles has chosen Germany and France as the first destinations is an important European gesture,” he said.

With Germany and France being important Nato partners for the UK, Mr Fitzwilliam believes this visit is crucial.

“With the war in Ukraine, the alliance between a Nato partner is significant,” he said. “It is helping build upon our nation. A visit by the royal family is important. They are after all Britain’s soft power, showing goodwill and engaging business.”

Despite the ultimate decision to send the king lying with the British government, Mr Arbiter believes King Charles will be the UK’s secret weapon. He hopes the visit will quietly heal old wounds.

“If the government feels it is right for diplomacy and physical schmoozing, they will send their secret weapon – the monarch,” he said.

“It is their decision, probably to smooth over the relationship following Brexit, and we need to make friends following Boris Johnson’s bull-in-a-china-shop behaviour and issues over migrants.

“The relationship is not good and Britain and France will be hoping to heal some of the wounds.”

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Updated: September 15, 2023, 2:27 PM