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.