This week, France is hosting a state visit by Their Majesties King Charles and Queen Camilla. For more than 150 years, visits to France by British sovereigns have invariably been highly symbolic key moments in our history.
Beyond the differences between our two countries constitutionally and in terms of political traditions, they have reminded us each time of our two peoples’ closeness, the strong ties a sometimes troubled history has forged between us and, still more, the importance of the values that we share and for which our countries have made huge sacrifices together since the beginning of the last century: freedom, democracy and, of course, the essential primacy the law must maintain over force, both at home and in the international arena.
Building on the major visits to France that have punctuated our common history, be it Queen Victoria’s in 1855, Edward VII’s at the start of the 20th century or Queen Elizabeth II’s throughout her exceptional reign (1957, 1972, 1992, 2004 and 2014), King Charles III’s visit marks a new stage in this very close relationship.
A few months ahead of celebrations for the 120th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, the 80th of the Normandy Landings and the 30th of the Channel Tunnel, the visit will once again testify to a Franco-British relationship that always overcomes the challenges standing in its way and that can ultimately look only to the future, in the interests of our two peoples.
Our country knows that it can find in King Charles a friend of France and a French speaker who has already paid 34 official visits to France, as Prince of Wales. Sharing with the French authorities a concern for the climate and biodiversity cause, he took part in Cop21 in Le Bourget in 2015.
During Cop26 in Glasgow in November 2021, he and President Emmanuel Macron co-chaired a meeting on the Great Green Wall, a vast programme of rural development throughout the Sahel Strip which seeks to combat the effects of climate change and desertification in Africa.
It is a measure of how far our relationship with the United Kingdom is destined to move forward, on this and many other issues. As President Macron said alongside Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Franco-British summit at the Elysée Palace on 10 March: “It is a moment of reunion, of reconnection and of a new departure.”
This new departure is being confirmed in every sphere: defence relations, joint support for our Ukrainian partner and friend in the face of Russia’s aggression, shared concern for global challenges, the economic partnership and, of course, cultural and academic ties.
The agenda for this relationship is simple: to make headway on every possible project – between our authorities but also with our two countries’ exceptional civil societies and with their young people, who are such a powerful link for the friendship between our two peoples, and who cannot allow occasional tensions to compromise the countless projects that they can carry forward.
Mobility, trade and the promotion of values fostered, for example, through sport and heritage protection are thus at the heart of our relations and will be on the agenda for the royal visit.
And then, of course, there is Europe. We want to build a relationship of trust between the UK and the European Union. We have seen progress on this, particularly with the Windsor Framework, and at continental level with the European Political Community, our shared space whose summit the UK will host next year.
With a strength borne of several centuries of history and of fraternity in the struggle to uphold their values and ideals, France and the UK have so much to say and do together in all these areas.
The King and Queen’s state visit is a further opportunity to reaffirm this common destiny. Enjoy your visit, Your Majesties!
Hélène Duchêne is the French Ambassador to the UK