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.
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.
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.
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!