Today we met with Johnny Jones in a more formal setting than our previous meeting. Before a series of briefings, we had the chance to attend an early fourth of July party, “The Annual Community Independence Day Barbecue,” at the official residence of the United States Ambassador to France, the Hôtel de Pontalba in Paris. After making our way through a very rigorous security checkpoint to enter the palace we arrived to the gardens and took a tour of the portion of the residence that is open to guests. The palace was magnificent to say the least and the party was delightful with great food and a small military-looking ensemble playing some great music.
After the party, we made our way through two more security checkpoints to the inside of the United States Embassy which is the oldest diplomatic mission of the US. There we went to the Wallace room, a room that is used in many occasions for official meetings, where we had briefings from three officials of the Embassy. We learned many things about the relationship between the US, France, and the EU in general. Common topics such as the UK referendum on EU membership came up and I was a little surprised to learn that this referendum had been basically disregarded by many officials. The Brexit victory came as a shock to many of them because they really did not expect for this to happen and therefore they had no backup plan but to keep doing things the way they used to. This has led to some uncertainty in negotiations such as TTIP and even talks about the need for the EU to evolve to discourage other members from leaving.
We also learned about some of the differences in opinion and policy between France and the US. For example, whenever a new industry is created in the US, the government does not regulate many aspects of it until the need arises to do so. The opposite is true in France. Whenever a new industry is created, it is immediately heavily regulated and slowly deregulated as it proves to be safe. This, in part, is what many think is one of the cause of the US focus on innovation and of France’s youth unemployment.
All in all, in my opinion the most important lessons of the day were in the areas of the violent extremism and the Privacy Shield Agreement.
The Privacy Shield Agreement that has now ended the negotiation phase has been the focus point for many debates and many people that argue that the agreement does not sufficiently address the problems that it was meant to tackle. Others also argue that because of this lack of resolution to previous problems, the agreement is going to be challenged again in court and that this will deteriorate the credibility of the EU Parliament and the EU in general; however, the argument of many Europeans is that the deal does not meet European standards and does not require US companies to do things the way Europeans do but under EU law, international agreements require that the laws, regulations, and requirements be “essentially equivalent” to those of the EU. This raises the question of what “essentially equivalent” means. According to our speakers, the main point of contention used to be the commercial component of this agreement and not the national security component. Even though there are still many people who disagree with the agreement, many officials on both sides now believe that the Privacy Shield Agreement now provides this essential equivalency. The agreement is set to be voted on July the 4th by the EU parliament and go into effect on July 11th.
When speaking about violent extremism one of our speakers said that at the end of the day if your name is Muhammad and you live outside of Paris it is really difficult to find a job and that this is really the greatest challenge that France is facing right now in their fight against the spread of violent extremism. According to them, the suburbs have higher unemployment rates and also higher radicalization incidence than urban areas which combined with the precarious economic situation has made it really hard to mitigate the radicalization of those who are the most susceptible to it. I thought this was a very interesting point of view because it shifts the focus of the problem from the people that spread their radical and violent extremism to the people that are susceptible to it, to the economy, and to a deeper societal problem. There is always going to be people trying to spread their radical views and trying to justify their discontent with society by dragging other people into their problems so that they are not the only ones in that situation; however, if those who would be susceptible to this propaganda and those frustrated with their status quo have opportunities for social mobility, can find a job to sustain themselves and their families and feel accepted in the society they live in, they would dismiss this propaganda and break the cycle that leads to radicalization and violent extremism.