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France rolls out the red carpet for King Charles III’s state visit

Charles’ trip was postponed in March amid widespread demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension changes

Britain's King Charles III and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a remembrance ceremony at Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, on September 20, 2023.
Britain's King Charles III and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a remembrance ceremony at Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, on September 20, 2023.YOAN VALAT / POOL (EFE)

President Emmanuel Macron and King Charles III were holding talks in Paris on Wednesday at the start of a long-awaited three-day state visit meant to highlight the friendship between France and the U.K. Charles’ trip to France was postponed in March amid widespread demonstrations against Macron’s pension changes.

For their first stop in the French capital, Charles and Queen Camilla attended a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, where they were greeted by Macron and his wife, Brigitte. Macron offered a warm welcome to the new king, often putting his hand on his arm and his back. Both smiled as they chatted together.

Paris city center has been placed under high security for the occasion, with thousands of police officers and surveillance drones being deployed. Small crowds gathered behind a wide range of barriers on the Champs-Élysées to get a chance to see the royal parade.

The visit shows “the deep historical ties that unite our two countries. It is also an opportunity to showcase France’s cultural, artistic and gastronomic excellence,” the French presidency said.

At the Arc de Triomphe, both national anthems were played before a review of French troops and a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to marking “the shared sacrifices of the past and an enduring legacy of cooperation,” according to Buckingham Palace.

The jet fighters of the Patrouille de France and Britain’s Red Arrows, the acrobatic teams of the two air forces, flew together above the monument, leaving a trail of red, white, and blue smoke in the Parisian sky.

Charles and Macron, followed by Brigitte and Camilla in another car, then headed to the presidential palace under escort from the horses of the French National Guard, with both waving at the crowd.

Macron and Charles were holding a bilateral meeting at the Élysée Palace, because the visit also “symbolizes the relationship of friendship and trust” since they “have in the past worked closely together to protect biodiversity and combat global warming,” the French presidency said.

The agenda was also due to include talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the migration issue, as Italy’s southern island of Lampedusa was in recent days overwhelmed by people setting off from Tunisia.

While the U.K. royal family long ago ceded political power to elected leaders, members of the royal family remain Britain’s preeminent ambassadors as presidents and prime ministers jockey to bask in the glamour and pageantry that follows them wherever they go.

The visit comes amid a recent warming in the Franco-British relationship after years marked by Brexit talks and related disputes.

At a bilateral summit in March, Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed to strengthen military ties and step up efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel.

“We know that the British and French relationship has been difficult at times since 2016,” Ed Owens, a historian of the British monarchy, told The Associated Press.

“This move on the part of the British state to send the king to France is about reassuring the people of France, but also the people of the U.K. that this is a relationship of significant important and that it is based on history, heritage and that there are many other things in our shared futures that connect us.”

A state dinner on Wednesday in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in the presence of more than 150 guests will be one of the highlights of the visit.

The menu includes blue lobster and crab followed by Bresse poultry and a gratin of cep mushrooms prepared, respectively, by French chefs Anne-Sophie Pic and Yannick Alléno. Both have been awarded three Michelin stars. The cheese course will feature France’s Comté and Britain’s Stichelton blue cheese. For dessert, world-famous pastry chef Pierre Hermé will prepare his rose macaroon cookie, made of rose petal cream, raspberries, and lychees.

On Thursday, Charles will address French lawmakers at the Senate, providing a new venue for the king to show off his language skills after he wowed his audience by switching seamlessly between German and English during a speech to Germany’s parliament in March.

He will later rejoin Macron in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral to see the ongoing renovation work aimed at reopening the monument by the end of next year.

U.K. Ambassador Menna Rawlings, speaking on French news broadcaster LCI, said that Charles was “very sad” after the monument’s spire and roof collapsed in a blaze in 2019. It reminded him of the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle, she added.

“Of course it’s an incredible moment for him to have the opportunity, with the queen, to look at this (renovation) work and also meet the firemen who were involved,” she said.

Charles and Macron will also attend a reception for British and French business leaders about financing climate-related and biodiversity projects.

The king will end his trip on Friday with a stop in Bordeaux, home to a large British community. He will meet emergency workers and communities affected by the 2022 wildfires in the area and visit the Forêt Experimentale, or experimental forest, a project designed to monitor the impact of climate on urban woodlands.

He will also tour a vineyard which has pioneered a sustainable approach to wine making.

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