In Depth

Why is France awarding London the Legion d’honneur?

Emmanuel Macron sparks controversy with move to commemorate the city’s help during WWII

French President Emmanuel Macron is planning to award London his country’s highest honour, according to reports.

Macron is said to want to present London with the the Legion d’honneur to commemorate the city’s support during the Second World War, when the English capital hosted exiled Free French Forces leader Charles de Gaulle.

But while some commentators have welcomed the plan as a means to help smooth Anglo-French diplomacy in the wake of Brexit, others have blasted Macron for honouring France’s “hereditary enemies”, The Times reports.

What does Macron have planned?

The Legion d’honneur is the highest French decoration and was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

As the Daily Mail explains, “it has been presented on behalf of the head of state to reward the most deserving citizens in all fields of activity”, and has also been awarded to cities including Luxembourg, in 1957, and most recently to the Republic of the Congo’s capital Brazzaville, in 2006.

French newspaper Le Figaro reports that Macron is now planning to bestow the Legion d’honneur upon London as part of France’s “year of de Gaulle” celebration, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the death of the former president and French Resistance leader.

Macron is believed to be planning to announce the award on 18 June, the 80th anniversary of de Gaulle’s famous Appeal speech from London calling on the French people to rise up against the German occupation of their country.

The Appeal is “regarded as the founding act of the Resistance” and was reproduced in English and broadcast on the BBC, says The Times.

And the response?

The reaction to Macron’s move has been mixed, with one French critic claiming on the Le Figaro website that “Napoleon Bonaparte must be turning in his grave”.

“He who created this medal and who was exiled to Saint Helena by the... English,” the disgruntled commentator added.

“The clearance sale of our Legion of Honour continues,” wrote another. “Mr Macron continues to destroy the French heritage.”

But Eric Bocquet, chair of the French senate’s Franco-British friendship committee, argues that the honour would be a “way of holding out a hand to the UK after Brexit”.

“It could be a way of showing that the UK is still part of Europe and that relations between Britain and France and between Britain and Europe are going to remain strong,” he added. “The English Channel is still just 21 miles wide and that isn’t going to change.”

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