King Charles set off to Germany on Wednesday in his first state visit abroad since becoming British monarch, as part of efforts to turn the page on years of rocky relations between Britain and the European Union after its exit from the bloc.
Charles, who succeeded his mother Queen Elizabeth as the British monarch in September, had been due to travel first to France, but cancelled that part of the tour due to violent social unrest over President Emmanuel Macron’s new pension law.
During his three-day visit to Germany’s capital Berlin, the eastern state of Brandenburg and the northern port city of Hamburg, Charles will address issues facing both countries such as sustainability and the Ukraine crisis, as well as commemorate the past, according to Buckingham Palace.
His plane will be escorted into Berlin by fighter jets as a mark of respect, the pilot said ahead of the takeoff on Wednesday.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will greet Charles and his wife Queen Consort Camilla with military honours at Berlin’s most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the country’s division during the Cold War and subsequent reunification.
It would be the first ceremonial welcome held there for a visiting head of state.
Steinmeier, is poised to hold a state banquet on Thursday at the presidential palace Schloss Bellevue for the royal couple, said it was an important “European gesture” that Charles had chosen France and Germany for his first state visit, even before his coronation in May.
“To him and obviously all Britons, I want to say that we in Germany, in Europe, wish for close and friendly relations with the United Kingdom even after Brexit,” he said in a video message ahead of the trip.
Underscoring Charles’ interest in environmental causes, one of his first engagements in Berlin will be a forum on sustainability where he will meet Germany’s foreign and economy ministers who are both from the Greens party, junior partner in the country’s three-way coalition.
There he will also meet business leaders, academics and civil society representatives to discuss matters from hydrogen and renewables to industrial decarbonisation, according to Buckingham Palace.
POST BREXIT RESET?
Charles will address the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag – which he last addressed in 2020 as Prince of Wales – on Thursday in Berlin, and meet some of the one million Ukrainians who have taken refuge from war in Germany.
Later in the day, he will meet representatives from a joint German-British military unit for a demonstration of their bridge-building amphibious vehicles in Brandenburg.
On Friday, he will visit a church in Hamburg that was destroyed by allied bombing in World War Two, and meet representatives of firms deploying green technology in the port.
Steinmeier said he had extended an invitation to Charles, who has travelled to Germany more than 40 times, at the funeral of his mother last September. The British government, however, makes the ultimate decisions on such state visits, which form part of its use of the monarchy’s ‘soft power’.
As such, the trip was a clear sign of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s push to reset relations with Europe, said Anand Menon, director of academic think tank UK in a Changing Europe.
However, any warmer relations with Europe brought about by the visit could cool quickly if other post-Brexit issues flare up. These include if the effort fails to yield Britain’s readmittance to the Horizon programme, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a 95.5 billion euro budget.
Queen Elizabeth had urged Europe to guard against division in the continent during her fifth and last state visit to Germany in 2015, at a time when Britain was seeking to renegotiate its position in the EU.
Macron has suggested Charles’ visit to France could be rescheduled for the summer.