The British monarchy is facing a turning point - and King Charles III. facing two challenges. The first is obvious: the heir to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II has to comfort a grieving nation while mourning the death of his mother himself. The second: He will have to prove that he can stay out of politics.
After all, a British monarch's first responsibility is to serve the unwritten constitution of the kingdom - not to influence it indirectly as a privileged voice. Last but not least, "I serve" is the official motto of the Prince of Wales, which is also documented on the insignia of the currently vacant title.
Well, at times Charles didn't strictly adhere to that.
In recent years, the Prince Charles has repeatedly intervened in the political debate, standing out with strong opinions on everything from climate change to modern architecture. And not always for the better. He always insisted that his opinions should be evaluated personally and not "monarchically". They were opinions anyway.
So could a King Charles try to (further) shift the rules of what can be said for a monarch, as his friend and biographer Jonathan Dimbleby suggested a few years ago? Such a move, Dimbleby said at the time, would mean a "seismic shift in the role of sovereign."
In any case, as Prince of Wales, he took the freedom that a royal does not really deserve, especially not one of his rank: he allowed himself a public political opinion.
The monarch entered political territory at the age of 21 when he raised awareness of the threats of pollution, plastic and overpopulation at a conference in Cardiff. That was in 1970, long before environmental concerns entered the political mainstream. At the time, Charles later said he was "completely insane" for putting the issue on the agenda. Probably with a certain pride.
The environment, climate change and climate protection have remained key concerns for the former organic farmer and notorious flower whisperer, even though the stages for his warnings have grown over the years. In 2008, the European Parliament appealed that the "climate change doomsday clock is ticking".
He asked the G20 leaders in Rome in 2021 to please listen to the "desperate voices of young people" on the climate crisis: "It is impossible not to hear the voices of desperate young people who see you as stewards of the planet who hold the viability of their future in their hands,” was his urgent appeal. He was present at all kinds of climate conferences, gave speeches at the COP21 in Paris or the COP26 in Glasgow.
And the list goes on for a long time.
Charles had sent numerous letters to ministers and to former Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997 to 2007), which were published by the royal family in 2015 after a ten-year legal battle. The British "Guardian" had been fighting for the letters to be published since 2005, above all against the bitter resistance of the government.
In a letter from 2004, Charles called on the government to equip the armed forces with working attack helicopters, otherwise the soldiers would lack the "necessary equipment". Prime Minister Blair had previously sent British soldiers to Iraq. The monarch also thought about the future of agriculture and subsidies for mountain farmers.
Always on topics of public interest, as his office asserted in a statement at the time: Charles only tried to pass on things that were brought to his attention. At the time, critics accused him of exploiting his position as future king and violating the principle of neutrality.
Similar, but different, Charles shook heads in Westminster just a few months ago. In June, The Times reported that the prince slammed the Rwanda refugee deal in a private conversation. He was "outraged" at the idea of flying unwanted asylum seekers from England to Rwanda and was "more than disappointed" at government policy.
Since it was not a public statement, Charles's comments were not considered to be an immediate transgression - although some members of the government expressed anger. Cabinet members who did not wish to be named warned the prince that as a monarch he would no longer be able to afford "interference of this kind". He apparently "misunderstood his role," a minister was quoted as saying.
Now, as king, Charles will be forced to walk the razor-thin line between political interference and the throne's imperative of neutrality. And now of all times.
Because the density of crises is high: The kingdom is still divided into Brexit supporters and opponents, is fighting under the impression of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine under an economic crisis - and climate change has still not been stopped. Will King Charles III. can hold back?
Probably not, albeit behind closed doors and no longer in public, as Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins expects. For example, during his weekly meeting with Prime Minister Liz Truss, the content of which is confidential, Charles could try to make his point. "It may not be more than a conversation with the most powerful person in the country," writes Jenkins, "but that in itself is an influential position." Especially since in Buckingham Palace and Westminster there is always a risk of a leak through which confidential information can leak out.
Charles may be king now, but things shouldn't be quiet about him.
Sources: "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "ITV", "ntv.de", "Frankfurter Rundschau", EU Parliament, editorial network Germany, United Nations, "Tagesspiegel", WDR, "The Times", "The Guardian"