Today we had what I consider to be one of the most informative briefings of the trip thus far when we visited the George C. Marshall Center as well as the German Marshall Fund Center here in Paris.
The George C. Marshall Center is housed in the Hotel de Talleyrand, which is a beautifully ornate building not far from the Place de Concorde. Not surprisingly, the property once belonged to the Rothschild family until it was purchased by the US Department of State in 1950.
We started our visit to the George C. Marshall Center with a video that highlighted the optimism and overall success of the Marshall Plan, otherwise known as the European Recovery Program (ERP). For those who don’t know, the ambitious plan provided assistance to a Europe who was, at the time, “on its knees” after the devastation of World War II and other disasters such as the drought of 1947. The Marshall Plan was able to not only stimulate the European economy but also provide the continent with much-needed health services and emergency assistance at the time. Most importantly, the success of their rebuilding efforts gave these European nations the opportunity to see the wonderful possibilities that arise when countries work together for a common goal.
We then had a lovely tour of the historical building before speaking with an American foreign service officer regarding his career path. It was very helpful, especially for those who would like to pursue such a career themselves. And for those who aren’t sure, it was nice to know that there isn’t just one way to enter such a field because this kind of work requires individuals with a variety of abilities, interests, and experiences. The best advice he had was to never become discouraged by the process. If you fail the Foreign Service Exam, you can always take it again later, when you have more experience and are better equipped for the task of representing America.
After the informal discussion and a quick lunch in the neighborhood, we then headed to the GMF, which wasn’t far from our own hotel. The GMF is a think tank that focuses on “strengthening transatlantic cooperation” by educating and building understanding on both sides of the Atlantic. The GMF is headquartered in DC but has seven offices across Europe, giving it a far-reaching presence across both continents. The office here in Paris was located in a quaint building, sandwiched between some local shops in the 6th arrondissement.
Our host was very knowledgable and rather than simply answering questions, she spoke to us about the current political atmosphere and the changes we are seeing with the recent election of Trump in the US and the election of Macron here in France. Both leaders are seemingly bringing a new wave of political action to their respective nations, whether it be good or bad. This changing tide in politics has created an overall unsettling feeling across the Western hemisphere as Europe struggles to find its place within the context of a new world order.
Overall, as the day progressed, I realized that America might have helped Europe get to where it is today, but it is now up to Europe to get to where it needs to be tomorrow. We should never forget the importance of the Marshall Plan because it paved the way for what we know today as the European Union by helping to rebuild the war-ravaged continent during the vulnerable post-World War II period. But over time, Europe has grown in power and influence. If the United States does lean towards more isolationist policies, the world should not fear a power vacuum because Europe has proven itself to be perfectly capable of assuming a greater position within the global context. This does, however, depend upon Europe’s ability to unite the individual member states, which should be all the more possible now as France is experiencing what was described as a “Macron moment” as well as renewed dedication to the overall European vision since Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
This is an interesting and exciting time to be in Europe. I have always admired Europe’s ability to look to the future while still being able to appreciate the rich history of its past. I am so excited to spend the rest of the week exploring Paris!