Charles Wins Hearts in Germany as Soft Power Pays Off

FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves from a balcony of the city hall in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Gregor Fischer, File)
FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves from a balcony of the city hall in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Gregor Fischer, File)
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Charles Wins Hearts in Germany as Soft Power Pays Off

FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves from a balcony of the city hall in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Gregor Fischer, File)
FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves from a balcony of the city hall in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Gregor Fischer, File)

King Charles III won plenty of hearts during his three-day visit to Germany, his first foreign trip since ascending to the throne following the death of his mother, Elizabeth II, last year.

Charles' tour saw a number of firsts that show the importance both countries placed on it — at a time when London and Berlin are trying to rebuild relations frayed by Britain's departure from the European Union, The Associated Press said.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier took the unprecedented step of welcoming Charles and Camilla, the queen consort, at the Brandenburg Gate with military honors Wednesday. A day later, Charles became the first monarch to address the Bundestag, the German parliament, stressing the long-standing close ties between both countries and the importance of future cooperation.

Observers in both Germany and the UK said the trip sent a strong signal about the enduring strength of British-German relations.

Jens Zimmermann, a lawmaker from Germany's center-left Social Democrats, said Charles sent a “clear message” by speaking to parliament partially in German.

"The speech in the Bundestag was very well-received," Zimmermann told The Associated Press. “It was much more political than you might have expected. It was very connecting — I think that was very good.”

In the speech, Charles emphasized that London and Berlin have provided considerable aid to Ukraine in its efforts to fend off Russia’s invasion — praise that will have been gratifying to a German government more used to claims it's not doing enough to help Kyiv. Zimmermann said Charles thanking Germans for taking in so many Ukrainians seeking shelter from the war might also be seen as a roundabout criticism of the British government's recent anti-refugee policies.

Although King Charles cannot pass legislation or directly impact British policy, the “soft power” of his visit should not be underestimated, Zimmermann said.

Others said that after the pandemic's long-distance diplomacy, in-person visits like Charles' can help deepen and renew relationships between leaders.

“I think as coronavirus has faded, we’ve been reminded of the value of face-to-face meetings,” said Bronwen Maddox, chief executive of the Chatham House think tank.
“And it just does add something to relationships, particularly between heads of state, who are very insulated," she said. "I think it has been received very well.”

Charles originally planned to visit France first, but anti-government protests there led both governments to postpone that part of his trip. The new itinerary put the focus on Germany, where Charles has family roots and the royals have long been the subject of keen interest.

That fascination was on display among the German public at Charles' appearances. Despite the wet and cold spring weather, well-wishers waited patiently to greet Charles and Camilla at their stops in Berlin and Hamburg, a city that sees itself as having a particularly close connection to Britain due to its long seafaring and trading ties.

Charles and Camilla also laid a wreath at the remains of St. Nikolai church to commemorate the more than 30,000 people, mostly German civilians, who were killed in Operation Gomorrah, the Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943. A boat trip and a farewell reception involving musical performances, including by a Beatles cover band and a sea shanty group, rounded off the king’s visit on Friday.

Michael Kruse, a lawmaker with the pro-business Free Democrats who like Zimmermann is a member of the German-British parliamentary group, said the two countries continue to have many common economic interests despite Britain's divorce from the EU.

“The channel has widened due to Brexit,” he said. “That's why the visit by Britain's head of state was all the more important.”

Kruse voiced a hope shared by many in Germany, that London will find its way back into the 27-nation bloc.

“My hope is still that the British will someday recognize Brexit was a mistake and return to the EU,” he said. “The door should always be open for this. Until then, we say: see you again, King Charles III.”



Greece Denies New Report of Brutality to Migrants

Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
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Greece Denies New Report of Brutality to Migrants

Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)

Greece on Monday denied a new report that accused its coast guard of brutally preventing migrants from reaching Greek shores, which also alleged that the practice had resulted in dozens of deaths.

A BBC report said it had been ascertained that 43 migrants drowned — including nine who were thrown into the water — in 15 incidents off Greece's eastern Aegean Sea islands in 2020-2023. It cited interviews with eyewitnesses, following reports from media, charities and the Turkish coast guard.

Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis insisted that there was no evidence to support the allegations.

“Our understanding is that what is reported is not proved,” he told a regular press briefing when asked about the claims. “Every complaint is looked into, and in the end, the relevant findings are made public.”

Greece is a major gateway for migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia seeking a better life in the affluent European Union. Thousands slip into the country every year, mostly in small boats from neighboring Türkiye. Relations with Türkiye are often tense, and the two countries' coast guards have repeatedly traded accusations of mistreating migrants.

Migrant charities and human rights groups have repeatedly accused Greece's coast guard and police of illegally preventing arriving migrants from seeking asylum by surreptitiously returning them to Turkish waters. Greece has angrily denied that, arguing its border forces have saved hundreds of thousands of migrants from sinking boats.

The country's reputation took a further knock in June 2023, when a battered fishing vessel with an estimated 750 people on board sank off southwestern Greece. Only 104 people survived, despite the Greek coast guard having shadowed the vessel for hours, and survivors claimed the trawler sank after a botched attempt by the coast guard to tow it. Greek authorities again denied these allegations.

The new BBC report included a claim by a Cameroonian man that he and two other migrants were picked up by masked men, including policemen, just after landing on the island of Samos.

The man claimed all three were put in a coast guard boat and thrown into the sea, and that the other two men drowned as a result.

The report also quoted a Syrian man who said he was part of a group picked up at sea by the Greek coast guard off Rhodes. He said the survivors were put in life rafts and left adrift in Turkish waters, where several died after one life raft sank before the Turkish coast guard came to pick them up.

Marinakis said “it is wrong to target” the Greek coast guard. “In any case, we monitor every report and investigation, but I repeat: What is mentioned (in the BBC report) is in no case backed up by evidence,” he said.