GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2018 (Page 1 of 5)


Today we had a really early start to a full day. We rolled out of the hotel at 6:15am to catch our train to Normandy! We grabbed a quick breakfast at the train station and then we were on our way. After a 2.5hr ride, we arrived at a rainy Bayeaux. We made our first stop at the Bayeux Museum to see the Bayeux tapestry. We each got an audio guide that walked us through the story told on this 70m tapestry. We learned about the story of the conquest of England by the Normans through 58 numbered scenes that end with the Battle of Hastings. After walking along the tapestry, we got to explore the rest of the museum and learn about the methods and tools used to create this tapestry. It was incredible to see all the skills they used to make this masterpiece by hand. The museum ended with a quick movie that brought the story of the tapestry to life as a wrap up.

We all got a quick lunch break then we were on a bus to the coast. We were dropped off in front of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where we were given a few hours to explore the area at our own pace. In the museum, there were movies telling the story of D-day and of all the young men who died that day. There were personal testimonies from soldiers and their families about what it was like to fight in the war or to lose a loved one. This museum did an incredible job honoring those who risked everything on June 6, 1944. 

After visiting the museum, I walked to the memorial and cemetery. It’s sobering to look out over the cemetery and to see rows and rows of headstones of those buried there. I also took some time to walk along the Wall of the Missing. This wall contains the list of all the soldiers who were never found. Some of the names have rosettes next to them, marking that the remains of that soldier have now been identified. Those names are rare. That area was a little more secluded from the rest of the cemetery but I think it is just as important to read those names as well as those on the headstones. All these soldiers deserve to remembered. 

After walking through the cemetery, we found a path down to the beaches. On the way, we met up with the rest of the group on top of one of the bunkers that’s been preserved to discuss our experiences going through the memorial. After talking for a bit, we only had a little bit of time before we had to catch the bus into town. So, we went down to the beach to get closer to the waves and at least stick our feet in the water. After getting our fill of the salt water and sand, we were on our way back into town for our last group dinner. 

Just like our first group dinner in Metz, we had crepes. The perfect bookends for our summer. During our last big meal together, we talked about the summer and some of favorite visits and briefings. We went through all of the cities we visited together and laughed about some of our crazy travel experiences. It was great to have one more meal together with such an amazing group of people. But, it wasn’t goodbye quite yet. We still had our train back to Paris and one more free day before going our separate ways for the rest of the summer. I’m confident that we’ll all make the most out of our last day in Paris and keep in touch when we’re back on campus in August. This summer has been everything I hoped it would be and more and I wish anyone planning on doing this program the best. It’ll be one of the best summers of your life!

Last Official Briefing

Today was our last official briefing for the entire EU study abroad program. It was a bittersweet experience based on the fact that we had completed so much over the past ten weeks, but saddened by the fact that in just two days we would all be heading our separate ways. Most of us did not know what to expect while visiting the French Foreign Ministry. This was our first opportunity to sit down with someone working in the French Foreign Ministry and ask them questions and hear their perspective. We all wanted to see the contrast between the think tank and research institution, such as Ifri and OECD, perspective compared with the perceptions of the French Foreign Ministry.

Our visited started off with a brief tour of some of the entrance areas within the Quai d’Orsay. We were once again met by the opulence and grandeur that characterizes French government offices. As we walked through the halls looking at gilding and majestic ceiling paintings opening up to the heavens, we suddenly found ourselves in a room, devoid of furniture, with a small picture in the corner. One of the first things that we read while beginning our program back in Metz was the Schuman declaration. The idea of making war “materially impossible” had been an underlying theme to our study of the European Union. Of course, the EU has developed far beyond the European Coal and Steel Community; however, the essence of the Schuman declaration to start a European peace project lives on through the challenges that we now face in the modern era. At the French Foreign Ministry the group was now standing at the exact spot that Schuman boldly proposed a new future for Europe. This future would unite people throughout Europe to bring peace and prosperity. Standing in front of the fireplace, we could not help feeling the gravity of this experience. This could not have been a more perfect location for us to finish with our last briefing. In this building the European Project, the subject of our entire 10 weeks of study, was born and we were sitting in the same place discussing the future of Europe and the world.

The briefing itself was given by the Deputy Director for some of the Quai d’Orsay’s research and policy work. The content of the briefing encapsulated most of the issues that we were wrestling with over the summer. From challenges to world order to Franco-German relations and the role of France in the EU, the briefing comprehensively posed perspectives and questions about the direction of both the EU and the world. He particularly focused on the transatlantic relationship, offering the French perspective on the changes developing in the relationship and the responsibility of both France and the US. However, he offered not just commentary on the situation in the transatlantic relationship, but, also, perspectives about France’s own politics. He touched upon France’s key relationship in terms of defense with the United States. French military efforts have been increasing in order to move towards strategic autonomy. His commentary also brought in historical perspectives regarding France’s history with the US during and after the war. Charles de Gaulle played a massive role in the development of post-war France and the direction it would take going into the future. His influence and icon status continues to impact the French psyche when it comes to international affairs.

We all left the briefing with a sense of clarity, not in the sense that we had all the answers to the questions, but we had clarity in the sense that we knew what the issues were and perspectives on the issues in the modern world. This day was also marked by the birthday celebrations for Angelica Wagner. We all went and ate macarons after the visit and walked back to the hotel with optimism and excitement for working towards solving the issues of the modern world, and continuing the spirit of Schuman, Monnet, and all of the great men who believed in a different world, a world of peace and happiness for all people.

The Legislative France

Today we had the privilege to visit the French National Assembly and the Senate, which together form the French legislative branch. On a beautiful sunny morning, we were up bright and early to catch the bus to the Assembleé Nationale. We got off at our stop right in front of the Seine river, and were received by both the staff of the Assembleé and a beautiful view of the septième arrondissement of Paris. After going through security, we watched a film explaining how the French government works right before we were given a tour of the building. The first room looked like a gigantic ballroom, but gilded and with huge mirrors and artwork everywhere. Every room thereafter was covered with paintings, beautiful tapestry, gilded ornaments, ceilings displaying the symbols and historic events that shaped the history of France, and doors with artfully crafted patterns. It was truly wonderful to be able to walk through these rooms, it felt absolutely surreal. It is also something that would be nearly impossible to do if you visited Paris only as a tourist. To put the icing on the cake, we ran into Jean Lassalle on our way out, a parliamentaire who ran for president in the last election cycle, and was able to get almost half a million votes. He shook my hand.

Inside l’Assembleé Nationale



Inside l’Assembleé Nationale

Assembleé Nationale

Library of l’Assembleé Nationale

After l’Assembleé Nationale, we took a break to walk the streets of Paris and to get lunch. We stopped at a small Creperie that had a fluffy cat welcoming the guests. After eating our savory crepe, I ordered the famous beurre sucre for dessert, which is a crepe with butter and sugar. It is simple but delicious, and it never disappoints. After taking pictures of the cat and finishing our crepes, we walked over to Le Sénat, where we were received and led by a terrific guide that made sure to explain to us all about the beautiful building we were in, including its art, its architecture and its history. Once again, we were absolutely amazed by the beauty and extravagance of the buildings. The level of detail in every painting, every marking, and every door hinge was impressive. Also, every piece of art, be it paintings, sculptures or markings, was carefully placed and positioned to add to the larger symbolism of the room, the palace, and ultimately, the French Republic.

Le Sénat

Le Sénat

Cat in the Creperie

While at Le Sénat, we got to witness a vote on legislation as spectators. Most of us non-francophones were a little lost during the session, but it was nonetheless fascinating to watch the senateurs debate and argue passionately in support of their positions. We were also honored by the visit of senateur Cristophe-André Frassa, who represents the French abroad. He joined us for a short walk through the library of the Sénat, posed for a picture with us before the end of our visit. Once outside, we walked through the Jardins du Luxembourg, a beautiful garden across Le Sénat. It was a great way to end a fantastic day of enjoying and learning about the cultural richness and beauty of France.

Group photo with senateur Cristophe-André Frassa

The OECD, George C. Marshall Center, and German Marshall Fund

Our first site visit of our busiest day in Paris was to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. The OECD began on September 30, 1961 as a joint platform between the United States, Canada, and twenty other countries to be used originally for the funds given for the economic rehabilitation of Europe in the devastating aftermath of World War II. Today, the OECD continues to recognize the interdependence of the economies of its 35 member states as well as Key Partners like India, Brazil, and China, and it works to analyze, discuss, and propose solutions to problems or barriers to economic cooperation and success. In fact, as a non-authoritative body, the OECD primarily concerns itself with this analysis, acting as an economic watchdog. Member states apply peer pressure and publish evaluations to ensure concepts like fair trade and competition are respected and upheld. We were lucky enough to have representatives of both the United States and the European Union speak to us, and they presented perspectives of their involvement within the OECD and how they differ. Notably, the U.S. representative, Georgia Tech alumnus Alexander Bryan, highlighted that the U.S.’s economic relationship in the OECD on a working level has not been altered, and he touted its key role within the Organisation, espacially as an essential watchdog with its biannual peer economic evaluations. The EU’s relationship with the OECD was interesting because it isn’t a signatory, but is rather a Special Observer. This important distinction means that while the EU has an active seat at the table of member states, it has no voting power and cannot initiate any projects. It is also does not have any obligatory financial responsibility, though it is the second-largest financier of OECD projects after the U.S. Following these two speakers, we were briefed by a representative of the Trade and Agriculture Department, who explained the challenges facing international trade such as negative public perceptions and digitalization. We were all wholly impressed with the quality and depth of the information and the speakers themselves, and left the OECD more aware of the need for economic interdependence and the proliferation of such a positive interaction within the international community.

Posing with Alexander Bryan after our excellent briefings at the OECD

Next was our visit to the George C. Marshall Fund off of the Place de la Concorde. Originally the house of the French aristocrat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and later the Rothschild family, the Center’s current residence is furnished with lavish wallpapers, plenty of beautiful chandeliers and intricate wood panelings, and, in true Parisian fashion, its fair share of gold leafing. Our brief tour walked us through the history of the building and showcased all of the former diplomatic apartments. We finished in a large dining room and joined a group of MBA students from Westminster for our briefing by U.S. Foreign Service Officer Suzanne Marie Yountchi. Mrs. Yountchi is the newly-installed Primary Secretary to Economic Affairs and provided a fresh perspective on not only U.S.-French economic relations, but also to the life and career of Foreign Service Officers. She also spoke on the issues presented by the digitalization of the economic market, but specifically commented on how France, as a personal project of President Macron, is trying to boost its startup industry by taking notes from Germany and the U.S. on how to encourage young entrepreneurs to stay and develop the domestic economy. Yountchi has only been in Paris for a few weeks and was very transparent about what she was learning and the process of becoming settled in an new country, and we so appreciated her taking the time to speak to us as she was still acclimating and transitioning into her new role.

Touring the George C. Marshall Center

We finished our day with a conversation at the German Marshall Fund center here in Paris.  A representative of the thinktank shared its perspectives on French politics, France’s activity and place within the international community, and France’s relationship with the European Union. One of the most interesting points our speaker commented on was President Macron’s perceived misjudgment of how to manage the France-U.S. relationship with the Trump administration. He stated that Macron seemed believe that following his visit to the White House and meeting with Trump, which was generally perceived as positive and constructive, he thought the resulting relationship was strong enough to influence Trump’s attitudes on issues like the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. relationship with the EU, and the JCPOA, or the Iran Deal. However, when Macron had no impact on any of Trump’s statements or action, he found himself depleted of social capital with nothing to show for it, and has since taken a much harder stance against the current U.S. administration’s policy. Later, I had the opportunity to ask how he foresees France responding to the U.S. and UK’s isolationist policies and resulting power void and shift in world order, and he echoed the Franco-German partnership that many of our other speakers also predicted emerging in the coming years. This, to me, is evidence of the success of the European Union’s original mission as a peace project between France and Germany. Time and time again, experts and professionals in economics, politics, society, or some combination of all three pointed to this relationship as becoming a leading world power, both within the EU and globally. 

Discussing French current political affairs at the German-Marshall Fund

Today was generally full of optimistic and intellectually-stimulating conversations about stable working relationships between publicly at-odds entities, the continued successes of post-WWII-era projects, and the future of the international community. There are plenty of challenges that have either presented themselves in full force, are only beginning to emerge, or are predicted to materialize in the future, but there are equally as many organizations and individuals who are ready to respond to these challenges with an equal amount of gusto and determination. As I look at the itinerary for the remainder of the week and the conclusion of our time here in Europe, I realize how much progress we have made and how much we have grown as students over the past nine weeks. Not only do we have extensive exposure to a dozen of current event topics, developments, and crises, but we are able to have in-depth conversations with experts about these issues in a very engaged and intellectual way that I would bet none of us foresaw on May 14 back in Metz. Since this is my last post, I would like to emphasize how much I have appreciated the opportunities and experiences this study abroad has provided me, and how grateful I have been to be able to learn and see so much and to meet so many incredible people. I look forward to benefitting even more from our last site visits and to spending our remaining week together here in Paris!

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