As requested by Dr. Birchfield, this blog will be related to our visit to the French foreign ministry. This was our second site visit in France. It was a fascinating visit in terms of finding out the French perspective on current issues especially Brexit! Both in my view and according to the recent lows of the markets in the UK and within member states of the EU go to prove that Brexit was probably the wrong decision. However on the other hand this is probably one of the most interesting times to be pursuing a minor in international affairs. The EU and its future could possibly never be more interesting. I fortunately also got the chance to travel to London on Saturday so my past three days have been Friday in Brussels, Saturday in London and Sunday in Paris. I’ve got a whole range of perspectives this past week regarding Brexit and the most crucial point I noticed which I will talk about later in this blog as well is “Uncertainty”.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs located on the Quai d’Orsay is the oldest French administration building. It handles a budget of approximately 4.5 million euros and has had some significant events that have taken place at this monumental location. We got a tour of the place before we started our visit and all of us could agree that the French are in another league of classiness. Room, bathrooms, doorways and almost everything you see is decorated with gold. Few of the rooms that we saw included the ground floor drawing room which is where the 1919 Peace Conference was held to bring an end to World War 1 and another important room was The Clock Room which was the setting for Robert Schuman’s declaration on Europe in 1950 and the signing of the ECSC the following year (the first stage in the road towards the present day EU).
Our first speaker was Sophie Delet, a French official working with the French government since 2007. She shared with us her valuable knowledge regarding Brexit. Just like the general atmosphere around Brussels and the UK she too was uncertain about the future of the EU. According to her the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the upcoming presidential elections in France is uncertain however the important part is that the French need to realize that being part of the EU is vital to both their peace and stability and their economic standards. It’s not at all surprising to see that after Brexit The French CAC closed around 8 percent lower on the day. The European Single market is a crucial part of the European Agreement and the French would find it hard to survive in a market without the EU. She clearly stated that she regretted the Brexit result as it’s going to take a lot of time and energy to deal with this matter and that due to this the EU will be a smaller player in the international field. All in all she wants the deal with the UK to be completed as fast as possible to reduce the amount of uncertainty whether its regarding the single European market, people’s jobs and healthcare, border checks, the Erasmus+ scheme we learnt about during our study abroad or something like roaming charges. It will all become clearer if the deal goes down quickly and I completely agree. I honestly believe that the UK should have not left but I do also feel that the UK could sustain the economic downturn if it reduces uncertainty. It was the best time to shop in the UK this Saturday, the pound was at a 35 year low and in my opinion its just stuck in “Limbo Land” and that the Pounds days are numbered and that it would fall further as long as this cloud of uncertainty hangs over the UK.
Three French officials conducted our following lecture. They were desk officers to the United States; one of them closely followed the elections in the States while the other two were studying French relations with all countries. Most of our talk with them surrounded the 2% pledge by all NATO member states. It was interesting to see how they defended what France is doing in terms of defense spending was adequate. According to the French officials the 2% was just a number and they value quality more then quantity so they are not worried about meeting the 2% of the GDP requirement on defense spending. They did mention that they already contribute way more then other member states and complained about the lack of political will other member states have to increase their defense spending in certain areas. My classmate Rad and I had opposing views on France’s contribution to European/NATO defense (I happened to agree with the French officials while Rad believed otherwise) that made me wonder how frustrated US officials would be with most NATO member states that rely heavily on the US for defense and just free ride without any sense of responsibility for sharing the burden for defense. On the other hand I being an Indian citizen felt like France is contributing heavily to many parts of the world especially in Africa and it is effectively using its military to help fight terrorism.
After our visit to the French foreign ministry the rest of the day we had some free time. So I took that opportunity to go watch the Italy vs Spain game that was being played in Paris. I went to the stadium without a ticket and I have to admit that I was really lucky to have gotten a ticket for the game at face value. It was a rather entertaining game that was quite unexpected given that both teams were tagged as defensive teams coming into the match. I am a huge soccer fan, I have probably missed out on just a couple of games in this euros and this Italy vs Spain game was my second ever football game I am watching live in a stadium. It was truly exciting! I’d like to throw in a quick word about the security at the stadium. It was extremely tight and in my opinion even though it took rather long to catch the train after the match, the guards handled the crowd really well. After all at our visit to the ministry that afternoon they did mention that around 90,000 personnel were added in France to protect everybody and I surely did feel safe and secure through the entire experience.
The trip in Paris has almost come to an end but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it from visiting all the different museums, our different site visits and lectures, to touring around Luxembourg gardens, Montmartre and obviously the Eiffel Tower. It’s definitely seems like it’s going to be really difficult to leave Paris however I look forward to see what else our study abroad has in store for us.