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Mar 30, 2023
UK Reboots European Ties With King Charles in German Parliament
(Bloomberg) -- King Charles III waded into European politics, praising Germany’s decision to reverse decades of defense policy by supplying Ukraine with arms and condemning Russia’s invasion.
“Germany’s decision to send such significant military support to Ukraine is remarkably courageous, important and appreciated,” Charles said in a speech to the lower house of parliament in Berlin. Speaking to Bundestag lawmakers in German during his first state visit as monarch, he said Russia’s “unprovoked” attack had “inflicted the most unimaginable suffering on many innocent people.”
“Countless lives have been destroyed; freedom and human dignity have been trampled in the most brutal way,” the king said. “The security of Europe has been threatened, as have our democratic values,” he added. “Even as we abhor the appalling scenes of destruction, we can take heart from our unity — in defense of Ukraine, of peace and freedom.”
As Prince of Wales, or monarch-in-waiting, Charles made no secret of his political advocacy, particularly his desire to combat climate change. Just six months into his monarchy and just over a month before his coronation on May 6, the King had not yet signaled whether he would follow in his mother’s footsteps and eschew any public political stances.
The monarch’s speech in Berlin, skipping between English and German, was the first time that a member of the royal family addressed the Bundestag when it’s in session. His visit has been billed as a test of Britain’s soft diplomacy in rebuilding European ties frayed by Brexit.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner was one of many voices praising the king’s Bundestag appearance, telling television broadcaster Welt he had made “an endearing, very personal statement about German-British friendship, with a lot of humor.”
“And I think it really helped, also for everyday life, so that Britons and Germans actually come closer together despite and after Brexit,” Lindner added.
Charles, who earlier met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, charmed German lawmakers with a few gentle jokes about the differences between the two nations.
“Like many British people, I have close personal ties here. In my case, cherished family relationships and associations that go back generations,” he said.
“Of course there are rivalries in some areas, especially in our encounters on the football pitch.” A reference to the England women’s soccer team beating Germany in the final of the European Championships last year drew a wry look from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“We have laughed at each other and with each other,” Charles said. He included references to Monty Python’s popularity in Germany and Dinner for One — a 1963 black-and-white British TV sketch which, while virtually unknown in the UK, has been at the heart of the German New Year’s Eve ritual since 1972.
Bundestag President Bärbel Bas invited the king and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, to view the first volume of the Bundestag’s Golden Book of illustrious visitors, which was signed by Charles’s late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
Charles thanked the German people for their messages of support following her death, saying that “Her late majesty won a particular place of affection among the German people.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has adopted a more emollient tone with Britain’s European neighbors than his predecessors did during Brexit negotiations, and visited French President Emmanuel Macron three weeks ago after sealing the Windsor Framework deal.
Even so, Sunak’s government was forced to deny that his governing Conservative Party sought to politicize the monarchy last month when the king met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during crunch Brexit talks.
Steinmeier and his wife Elke Büdenbender welcomed the British royal couple on Wednesday with military honors at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, to cheering crowds. There has been widespread interest in Germany in the royal visit, with news reaching the front page of many newspapers, including best-selling tabloid Bild.
Steinmeier addressed the issue of Brexit in his speech at a state banquet on Wednesday evening, which he noted marked “six years to the day” since the UK submitted its letter notifying the EU of its intention to leave. He said that had been a “sad day” for him and many other Germans.
“Back then many feared that Brexit could make the Germans and the British drift apart,” Steinmeier said. “However, this did not happen,” he added. “Too strong are the ties between our countries, too close the friendships between our people, too precious the reconciliation efforts after two world wars.”
On Friday, the king will visit a memorial in Hamburg to the Kindertransport, the railway evacuation of Jewish refugee children to safety in the UK in the run-up to World War II.
--With assistance from Michael Nienaber.
(Updates with finance minister comments starting in sixth paragraph)
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