Vaiju Naravane

Fails to invite Queen for Normandy anniversary

Paris: By failing to invite Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for the 65th commemoration of the Normandy landings that marked the beginning of the end of World War II, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has committed a serious diplomatic gaffe.

The ceremonies on June 6 will be attended by U.S. president Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Sarkozy and now, as a last minute addition, Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who will represent his mother.

It was only when Mr. Obama himself waded into the controversy, saying last week that he felt the Queen ought to be present that the French decided to issue a separate personal invitation to the British monarch.

The Queen, who took part in the war effort when still a young princess, was very much part of the 60th anniversary ceremonies in 2004.The French failure to personally invite her was seen by Buckingham Palace as a direct snub.

Belated efforts to repair the damage have yielded some results since Prince Charles will now represent Britain along with Mr. Brown. But the atmosphere remains cold, especially in the light of the warm welcome Queen Elizabeth reserved for President Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni when the duo visited Britain in this March.

Focussed on Obama

Reports here say that Mr. Sarkozy was so focussed on welcoming Mr. Obama, for whom he is said to harbour an unbounded fascination that he forgot to invite the Queen.

Paris desperately tried to gloss over the gaffe by putting the blame on Mr. Brown. An invitation had been issued to the British government and it was for Mr. Brown to decide who would represent Britain, the French riposted.

“The Queen of England, as head of the British state, is, naturally, welcome,” French government spokesman Luc Chatel said. “However, it is not for France to decide who will represent Britain.”

But of course the Queen and her entourage cannot be invited at the drop of a hat and although she has decided to deputise Prince Charles to represent her, the French have ended up with egg on their face.

“Neither the Queen nor any member of the Royal Family will be attending the D-Day commemorations on June 6 as we have not received an official invitation to any of these events,” a palace spokesman said last week.

Embarrassment

Efforts by the White house to extract an invitation for the Queen have proved embarrassing for Mr. Brown. Protocol experts here say the failure to invite the Queen is symptomatic of the Sarkozy governing style which pays scant respect or attention to protocol.

Mr. Sarkozy is keen to be seen as master of ceremonies alongside Mr. Obama and the French have tried to boost the U.S. role with Mr. Chatel saying this year’s anniversary will be “first and foremost a Franco-American ceremony given the recent election of Mr. Obama.”

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