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Charles III's five challenges to the uncertain future of the British monarchy


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The Conversation

Emili J Blasco

Director of the Global Affairs Center, University of Navarra

While Operation Unicorn and Operation London Bridge, the plans designed for the death of Elizabeth II, are being meticulously carried out, King Charles III of England faces the beginning of a new stage at the head of the British monarchy. In his first speech as king, quoting Shakespeare, he said that the queen was "a model for all living princes" and claimed to be aware of the great inheritance he received, as well as of his duties and responsibilities.

But his accession to the throne, at the age of 73 and after seven decades of his mother's reign, raises many questions about the future of the institution, the country and its relationship with the world: how will the monarch deal with the independence aspirations of some territories such as Scotland or some of those that make up the Commonwealth? How will he achieve the image of stability and continuity that his mother has given to the United Kingdom, both inside and outside the country, thanks above all to her neutrality and discretion?

1. The survival of the Commonwealth

Of the challenges to be faced by the new king, the most uncertain is the survival of a meaningful Commonwealth. Currently, the organization is made up of 14 former British colonies and protectorates, independent and semi-independent, but respecting the figure of the monarch.

Continuing to keep these nations together is a great challenge, and Charles III, aware of it, received Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth's administrative assistant , in audience last Sunday.

Likewise, although it seems early to make decisions, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, one of those 14 nations, has already informed that he will call a referendum to become a republic in the next three years, after the death of the queen.

It is hard to imagine Australia, Canada and New Zealand retaining an English monarch as head of state for more decades.

2. Scottish independence

The challenge on the most important national level of Charles III is to prevent Scottish independence, although that does not depend on him alone. Unfriendly manners could encourage separation, but the 2014 referendum already provided for independence with Elizabeth II as head of the new state.

Although thousands of people waited for hours to see the arrival of the Queen's coffin at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and the proclamation of Charles as King, there is a strong republican tendency in Scotland.

According to the polls, 49% of Scots would support independence compared to 51% who would reject it. However, republic and independence are not linked, and currently, 42% believe that the monarchy is good for the country against only 22% who consider it bad.

The core topic of Scotland's new relations with Charles III may lie in how he acts and what the monarch says, and whether he maintains political neutrality, like his predecessor.

3. A discreet style

One of the king's greatest challenges is to combat his inclination to express his own opinions (he has already pledged to give up his "activism"), to become the mortar of a society that, like all societies, is becoming increasingly polarized.

One of Elizabeth II's successes was to pass very unnoticed in the political sphere. She measured every word she uttered and, in fact, we do not really know her opinion on public issues.

Charles of England, however, has spoken out on multiple occasions on issues such as climate change or social inequality -far from the neutrality of his mother-, perhaps because he was not the monarch and was not obliged to do so. In addition to the difficulty of achieving it, there is the paradox that the neutrality demanded by position may prevent him from continuing to promote causes that would bring him closer to the younger generations.

4. Approach to the 'commons

The other challenge of character staff of Charles III is to get closer to the "commoners", something complicated given his Education in privilege and in the context of English classism.

We saw it during the proclamation ceremony, held at St. James's Palace, when, upon signing his appointment, he gestured to one of his assistants to remove one of the inkwells. The moment went viral on social networks and was branded as elitist, and, as far as can be predicted, it will not be the only such gesture of his mandate.

5. reference letter of stability

In the background, and to achieve all the above challenges, Charles III must aspire to become, as his mother did, reference letter of stability, in a world currently in political and economic turmoil, with a Brexit that further amplifies the difficulties.

The discretion of Isabel II gave continuity to the country and has been the anchor in the moments of greatest success and also in those of greatest economic and political crisis. With a much shorter reign, it remains to be seen whether Charles III will be able to provide that stability.

Although the new king has improved his image in recent years, he does not have the affection that Elizabeth II, a figure of consensus and respected by most Britons, earned.

Charles III conveys a little more solidity than when he was prince and his initial speech is encouraging, but we will have to wait to see if he truly follows his mother's example.