After years of policy angst between Emmanuel Macron and the United Kingdom, it was reassuring to see France’s president emerge as a royal superfan during the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II.
The man who called Brexit “a crime” and who regularly went to war with British ministers over issues such as fishing rights sounded completely different.
He made it clear he absolutely loved history’s second-longest reigning monarch.
Macron genuinely admires Britain
Some suggested that Macron’s hugely emotional tributes were all about politicking.
Coming after new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss’s “friend or foe” quip, Macron told the British people: “To you, she was your Queen, to us she was the Queen.”
What better way to curry favour with mistrustful Brits than to say Her Majesty “touched French hearts” and “represented eternity”?
Macron knows he needs British support to stamp his mark on the new European order.
The notoriously silver-tongued but duplicitous statesman was simply using a change in the wearer of the Crown to try to get what he wanted, critics have argued.
Such a cynical view is, in fact, misplaced.
I have spoken in person to Macron about his admiration for Britain, and it is absolutely genuine.
Macron sees benefits of monarchy
One of his paternal great-grandfathers was a butcher from Bristol who joined the British Army during World War One and ended up marrying a French woman.
Macron speaks English extremely well and, before the demands of state intervened, he used to spend regular holidays and weekends in the UK with his wife, Brigitte.
More than that, Macron is absolutely obsessed by constitutional monarchy, to the extent that he has almost called for a restoration.
In the run-up to his election in 2017, Macron spoke about a metaphorical void in French life, saying “this absence is the presence of a king, a king who, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead”.
Louis XVI, France’s last proper king, was guillotined during the 1789 French Revolution, along with his queen, Marie Antoinette.
Macron suggested legendary Frenchmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle had acted as substitutes for them, but the “deep emotional abyss” prevailed.
President is as powerful as a king
The reality is that De Gaulle tried to fill the gap by creating the stupendously powerful executive position that is the modern French presidency.
It technically shares governmental responsibilities with parliament, but only nominally.
In reality, the chef d’Etat appoints his own prime minister – one who does not even have to be an MP.
The president can ask for all new legislation to be reviewed and can dissolve parliament on a whim. He can also rule by decree.
If that does not sound kingly enough, the head of state is the commander-in-chief of all military forces and has influence in the appointment of key members of the judiciary.
He cannot be prosecuted in office, and has multiple homes at his disposal, along with an army of flunkies, including Republican Guards.
It is a quasi-monarchical system in France
No wonder Macron soon earned the nickname ‘Jupiter’ – after the god of gods – when he came to power as an independent without a proper political party behind him.
Yes, he was elected, but the way the French system allows a determined individual to come from nowhere to become head of state and government says everything about the quasi-monarchical system.
Macron frequently uses man-of-destiny rhetoric as he continues to exploit this role to glorify himself.
“L’Etat, c’est moi” (“I am the State”) were the apocryphal words of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who reigned for 72 years – two more than Elizabeth II.
Those words could easily be uttered by Macron today, making the reverence he shows to monarchy quite understandable.