Picture this: 24 Georgia Tech students and various professors madly speedwalking through the streets of Paris at noon, hungry, tired, and sweaty but determined to reach their destination.
Our day began at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Quoi
d’Orsay (please don’t ask me how to say that) where we had a brief tour of the gorgeous grounds. Then we went inside to a blessedly air conditioned room and heard about France’s relationship with the EU from a member of the EU Directorate. His talk focused on the ministry’s functions, current issues, and France’s role in the EU. He covered a lot of interesting material, but I’ll share what I feel is the highlight reel because you probably don’t want an outline of the briefing. Apparently, the French civil servants in the MFA are very young, on average 28-30 because of how demanding the work is. Policy areas are fairly divided, but there are some shared competencies amongst the EU Directorate and regional directorates. What was most interesting to me was our speaker’s perspective on France’s role in the EU and the world. He seemed extremely proud of France’s military prowess and determined that France needs neither NATO nor the EU for security. He also said that French authority and the EU are not in conflict, but that France has not transferred competence on anything not specifically in the treaties.
Next, we were briefed by a panel of three people from the Center for Analysis Planning and Strategy (CAPS), a think tank-like body within the MFA made up of diplomats and academics that makes recommendations to the ministry. We heard a general summary of the work of CAPS and discussed with an advisor on climate negotiations global and French trends in confronting climate change, especially in light of the upcoming COP 21 meeting in Paris.
Then came the hurried transition that you may remember reading about at the beginning of this post, when we rushed to the American embassy to meet a Georgia Tech (and EU Study Abroad Program) alumnus who serves there. Unfortunately, we had to turn in our phones at the gate so I don’t have pictures of the inside of the building, but it was absolutely gorgeous. We were seated in another wonderful, air conditioned conference room where we had the privilege of speaking to five diplomats. The panel included an economic officer specializing in macroeconomics and the financial sector, especially the Eurozone, a security expert from the Regional Affairs Office, a veteran political counselor, a member of the US mission ot the OECD, and a political officer focused on the Middle East and Northern Africa. After brief introductions from each, we had free reign to ask them questions for almost two hours, which we took full advantage of. We discussed Ukraine, Greece, NATO vs. EU security measures, the Middle East, and France’s role in transatlantic relations among a host of other topics. This session was my favorite of the summer so far because it was so open for us to ask questions about what interests each of us, and the speakers were all candid and detailed. Though we were all tired by the end, it was an absolutely outstanding day and I think we all learned a lot.