Status: 03/29/2023 04:19 am
The state visit of Charles III. and his wife Camilla is seen by many as a rapprochement with Europe and Germany – after the alienation caused by Brexit. British conservatives even speak of the “European king”.
It has been more than half a century since Elizabeth II’s first visit to Germany in 1965 heralded the end of the immediate post-war period and the beginning of Anglo-German reconciliation. If Charles III. arrives in Berlin today for his very first state visit as the new British king, then the close historical ties between Germany and Great Britain are again the focus of the royal visit, but this time in a completely different way: as a rapprochement after the estrangement of the long years after Brexit.
With Charles III some conservative media on the island are now writing that a “European king” is coming to Germany, a king whose close personal ties to Germany should enable him in a special way to promote a new close relationship between London and Berlin.
State visit in terms of the Prime Minister
A state visit is one that is not only constitutionally commissioned by the British government, but is also likely to be in the spirit of the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. He has made Britain’s gradual rapprochement with the EU a central task in order to get the British economy, which has been hit by Brexit, back on track.
The “Windsor Framework” passed in the British House of Commons last week, the agreement with Brussels in the never-ending dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, was the first major step towards more mutual trust and closer cooperation.
A compromise that Sunak was right to claim as the first major political success of his term, but which also remains a difficult balancing act for him, as much of his own Tory party remains reluctant to accept the need for a rapprochement with the EU .
Brexit ultras sharply criticized meetings with von der Leyen
And so there was a dispute right away when Sunak wanted to use the new king at the end of February in the run-up to the negotiations for the Northern Ireland Protocol for his charm offensive towards Europe and Ursula von der Leyen promised an audience at Buckingham Palace.
The right-wing, pro-Brexit press cried out indignantly that this was a breach of the British Crown’s constitutional neutrality. The Brexit ultra Jacob Rees-Mogg even declared that it was “constitutionally unwise” to draw the king into a political controversy, after all, the EU Commission chief was not an official head of state.
But Sunak stuck with it, and von der Leyen’s visit to the palace took place, albeit a little later than originally planned, namely after he and the EU Commission chief had announced their compromise in Windsor.
King Charles III receives Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, during an audience at Windsor Castle. After years of wrangling over the special Brexit rules for Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU have reached an agreement.
Charles III is not a “blank slate”
For Charles and his position as king, such involvements in the still controversial post-Brexit politics are not without danger, since he is, unlike his mother, who came to the throne as a young woman as a largely blank slate, a monarch who lived a long life as a political activist before ascending the throne.
His decades of advocacy for climate protection may now pass as a bipartisan mission to save the planet, but on other levels his previous commitment is clearly at odds with the policies of the increasingly right-wing populist British government.
His diverse foundations, such as the Prince’s Trust, which look after the fate of the socially disadvantaged, Charles’ regular receptions for refugees and the politically persecuted do not fit in with a government that soon wants to abolish the basic right to asylum with increasingly draconian laws and is openly discussing even wanting to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights for this purpose. A step that, by the way, only Russia and Belarus have taken so far worldwide.
Even a monarch can set an example
Of course, Charles knows only too well that as king he can only hint at his political and ideological convictions in soft tones, and in his first speech after the death of his mother he addressed this openly. He may officially be the British head of state, but the British monarchy is constitutional, meaning it must be largely neutral politically.
But he can make his mark, discreetly and indirectly, and he seems to intend to continue doing so. When Liz Truss banned him from traveling to COP27, the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, last fall, he summarily invited to a COP27 reception at Buckingham Palace, and everyone came, including the government. The power of a British king to bring people together and in this way to set symbolic themes is no small one, who refuses when invited to the palace.
Ecologically motivated Prince of Wales popular in Germany
And so his state visit to Germany, which begins today, is all about the issues that have occupied him all his life. When he visits a center for Ukrainian refugees in Tegel on Thursday morning, that is of course also a signal to London.
When he meets German organic farmers on Wittenbergplatz and the reception in Bellevue Palace takes place under the heading “Energy transition and climate protection”, it is clear that Charles, with all due caution, will continue to see his role as monarch more concretely and politically than his late one mother wants to fill out.
Little controversy expected
In Berlin and Hamburg, this should not lead to much controversy in the next few days. On the contrary, the ecologically moved Prince of Wales was for decades much more popular in Germany than in Great Britain itself. But it will be all the more interesting how the visit of the new king is perceived on the island itself.
A “European king” who, on behalf of his government, wants to gradually bring the controversies of the polarizing Brexit years to a conclusion together with the European partners, is unlikely to please everyone, at least among the Tories.