On June 6th, France will host the 65th anniversary of its D-Day liberation from Nazis by 83,000 British and Canadian troops, and 73,000 US soldiers. The head of state representing the largest contingent — the Queen of both England and Canada — didn’t get an invite. It’s just for Presidents Obama and Sarkozy — and apparently if some British government types want to watch the make out session, they’re free to do so.
The British press has been reporting that the Queen feels snubbed. So I got in touch with a few people close to Sarkozy to find out what the deal was. I figured that this had to be an unfortunate mistake or oversight – because I have personally found that if there are any French at all who are unlikely to flake on an appointment and or behave in a manner that induces moral culture shock in a North American, it’s the select handful of people around Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sarkozy’s press secretary, Franck Louvrier, directed me to a statement by government spokesman, Luc Chatel, which says that it’s up to the British to decide how they construct their delegation, and that the Queen was “welcome”. I responded to Louvrier (translated from French):
“Chatel says that she’s ‘welcome’?! Bah…I received the same invitation as the Queen of England…on the Normandy tourism website! Olala…come on, guys!”
Elysée spokesman, Pierre Régent, told me over the phone that this is a “Franco-American” event, and that there have been other ceremonies in the past for other countries. He pointed out that there are Norwegians and Poles buried in Normandy, as well – not just Canadians and Brits. French-to-truth translation: “It’s a date, so shove off”.
I hate to do this, but let’s have a look at the cemeterial scoreboard for this “Franco-American” event, in and around Normandy: 9,386 American, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadian and 650 Poles. That’s 22,771 for the Queen (uninvited), and 9,386 for Obama (invited).
By not inviting the Queen, the French have, at least in part, left the war and history out of the ceremony. The optics suggest that this is about two guys – Sarkozy and Barack Obama — turning what should be a group event into a one-on-one makeout session between themselves and the cameras. Apparently Sarkozy has been fantasizing about it since April, when France’s Express magazine reported that he was joking of Obama’s D-Day visit, in a caucus meeting: “I will ask him to walk on the English Channel and he will do it…you will see…”
That’s nice, but what’s the harm in inviting everyone to that kind of a show? It’s not like there’s a lack of space in the French countryside. Why not just throw invitations to all relevant heads of government and state, like Jacques Chirac did for the 60th anniversary of Normandy. He invited the Queen, the Canadian PM and everyone else of historical relevance. Who cares that Chirac may simply have been short on friends – the end result was proper.
I asked Elysée spokesman Régent if Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been invited. Apparently not. They should have at least sent him one. He won’t ruin the event — he’ll just sit in the corner and quietly devour the sandwich tray. And why not the President of Poland: President Whats-His-Name? He’s unlikely to overshadow any big egos. What about Canadian Governor General , Michaëlle Jean, the Haitian-born, French-speaking Queen’s representative in Canada, who just this week ripped out a baby seal’s heart and ate it raw? She’d make a great guest — Sarkozy wouldn’t know whether to make her the next token ethinic minority cabinet minister or offer her a job in haute cuisine.
All these people — and especially the Queen — should have been at least given the opportunity to decline an invitation, which they almost assuredly would have all accepted.
There are many realistic excuses not to invite the Queen to an event like this, none of which has been articulated, but all of which are more likely than the ridiculous idea of D-Day commemorations being a “Franco-American” event:
First, you have to behave around her. These world leaders can’t treat the Queen like they do German Chancellor Angela Merckel at some of these wild world summits – with shoulder rubs and touchy-feely pawing. It’s hard to act and look cool knowing that you could possibly screw-up at any time by merely giving her a blackslap.
If you invite the Queen, you invite the British press, whose favorite pastime is mocking the French. It doesn’t matter how somber the occasion might be — razzing will ensue if there’s any reason for the English media to be present.
The Queen needs a lot of security. France could use costs as an excuse, given that France is broke. Those aren’t my words; Prime Minister, Francois Fillon has been saying it since 2007. But then the Queen can always offer to foot the bill — and you know she would — making the host country look cheap with a lady picking up the tab. And that means you’d have to ask Obama to chip in, too. (Sorry, I’m suddenly having post-traumatic flashbacks to my last series of dinners with French men.)
None of the excuses hold water. Regardless of one’s opinion of the monarchy, the Queen is still the head of state of some of France’s most reliable and proven allies. This means something in particular to the many soldiers of these countries who would once again defend France and give their lives if she ever called on them to do so. The most Sarkozy and France risk in respectfully extending her a proper invitation is a paper cut. Honor, respect, and tradition still mean something to those of us burdened by pesky Anglo-Saxon morality. So he really needs to reschedule the orgy with Obama and the media for June 7th. War cemeteries aren’t the place for it.