Although we were supposed to go to the US Embassy and the Assemblee Nationale today, and the Les Invalides exhibition another day, the schedule got switched around. This worked out perfectly because we got to have a free morning in Paris and the perfect amount of time at the museum before taking the short walk over to the Ministry to meet with some young employees!
A couple of us used our free morning to visit the Notre Dame, then to peruse the halls of Musee D’Orsay (A sizable museum recognized mainly for its impressive Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection), both of which were pleasurable and awe-inspiring activities I would recommend to anyone who comes to Paris.
The Notre Dame de Paris began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. “Notre Dame” means “Our Lady”. This structure is one of the largest and most impressive churches/cathedrals in world, and an excellent example of French-Gothic architecture. It also holds holy relics such as the “purported Crown of Thorns”, a Holy Nail and a piece of the True Cross. It was crowded with tourists, but still very impressive.
In Napoleon’s time, the Les Invalides was utilized as a military hospital, but now holds historical monuments, museums, and a veteran retirement home and hospital. The front lawn of Les Invalides was scattered with bunnies and beautifully shaped bushes. The Dome des Invalides holds the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as the tombs of other war heroes. The Dome was very lavishly decorated, and held numerous monuments and remembrances. It was a cool respite to the hot outdoors.
We visited a special exhibition about the France-Germany 1870-71 War, Commune and Memories. It was relatively small, but chock-full of helpful summaries, interesting graphics and effects, old paraphilia, and moving art work. The museum made the effort to explain the reasons behind the war, what life was like during it, and the consequences and after-effect it had on German and French civilization.
Nationalism in France and the effort of unification in Germany triggered this conflict, and lead to French defeat, fall of their government, proclamation of a Republic, an uprising and occupation by the victors. This interaction set the mood for future French-German relations, and ended the Concert of Europe. The main players were Otto van Bismarck (unification was the name of his game), and Napoleon III, who’s empire was weakening. The French were decisively defeated, and Pais was sieged and eventually occupied (after an armistice). The price was heavy for both sides, and upset the French governance for a long time to come.
After the museum and tomb visit, we walked over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was only a couple of minutes away. We checked in our passports, got badges, went through security and were led through the old building. Everyone’s office doors and windows were open, and the conference room that we settled into had an impressive view of the Eiffel Tower.
After settling in, the young professionals there to meet with us introduced themselves. The young man, Nick, worked for the UN directory and the Young Diplomat Program, and had a history and interest in climate change and the environment. The first woman, Karen, was involved with NATO and strategic affairs defense, and was soon going to work on the Singapore trade agreement. The other woman, Nadine, was an Asia specialist involved in global affairs and soft power policies.
We asked them questions about the issues we were interested them, and they answered them as best they could. We talked about a variety of issues over the next two hours, focusing on Turkey, the future of the US relationship with France and the EU, China, the Paris Accord, and Brexit.
The conversation started with Turkey. Turkey is not in the EU, but is a part of NATO, but has proven to be a difficult ally. They said that the Ministry was trying to “ignore bilateral differences” and ” enhance unity and alliance to provide stability,” while trying to coordinate the efforts of the EU and NATO as to limit duplication and head-butting. They also mentioned that while Turkey was considered to be a candidate for EU membership in the past, it was no longer up for consideration in light of the less-democratic direction it has headed in in more recent years, and the fact that the death penalty is still an available punishment there, and that this application withdraws makes Turkish citizens very frustrated with the EU. While Turkey has become less democratic since the coup, the EU believes that Turkey is an essential ally, and that the democratic persons there must be supported (although it is hard to tell who is actually democratic). The situation is very much in the air, and needs to be felt out.
We then discussed the US withdrawal from the EU, in light of our new president. They believe that foreign relations don’t necessarily have to go through the center, and that with modern technology, everyone can communicate through many different channels. US and EU still agree on main objectives, but the US would like to see Europe step up on defense spending and shoulder some of the global and EU related burden. Nick said that hopefully Europe will step up and the US will stay involved, but Europe could also “bury its head in the sand” and try to draw US involvement back into Europe. As the Trump administration doesn’t have a consistent or collective stance, and the EU is representing 28 different voices, neither really know where to stand at the moment. The pledge to devote 2% of GDP to defense spending is being worked on, although Germany feels that 2% might be unreasonable for their economy. Countries are putting forward their national plans, and hoping to get there around 2024.
Nick was very passionate about the Paris Accord and climate change, stressing the importance of us making progress on this subject, and that we need to always be improving our carbon footprint. After the US dropout, EU and China are going to continue with the agreement, and some other groups (such as some US states) are following through with the deal. This agreement shows that we can tackle big problems globally, and is beneficial to everyone involved.
Nadine talked about China’s growing role as a trade partner with the EU, which is starting to look outward more and more. China is trying to improve its image and send a positive message about globalization and climate conservation, for profit and for their citizens. They are trying to show that they are a responsible global partner, and may begin to fill the hole left by the US in the EU, growing their presence their like they have in Africa.
The general EU feeling is that whatever happens with Brexit is bad for the EU and the UK. Nick, Nadine and Karen spoke as representatives by saying that Brexit is bad for British citizens abroad, EU citizens in the UK, businesses, institutions, and trade. The everyday life simplified by the EU and its benefits will now become more complicated and chaotic. Every sector where the UK and the EU mixed has to be sorted out and the EU might end up with a lower budget as they lose to UK’s contribution. The consequences of Brexit can be seen in the French elections, other countries’ referendums, and in UK politics. The EU is making an effort to negotiate as a group rather than individually. The main goal is to keep the UK as a close ally.
When we wrapped up this enlightening discussion, Dr. B was surprised with a special opportunity for us to see the building in which the Schuman Declaration was signed. The building was a part of the Ministry’s complex, so we quickly walked over. Although the exterior was modest, the interior of the building was ornately decorated and lavish. We were taken through the series of rooms to end up in front of a picture taken when it all went down. Dr. B was over the moon, and we were all thrilled to be standing where such a monumental event took place.
Later in the evening, we ended such an exciting day with a scenic boat cruise down the river Seine. The water beautiful reflected the city lights and setting sun, and the bridges and Eiffel Tower were just beginning to light up. What a perfect way to end the day!