French ambassador talks European, French politics at Elliott School event

The ambassador of France to the United States discussed European affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs Wednesday.

Philippe Étienne, who has served in various diplomatic posts over the past two decades, was appointed as to serve as ambassador to the United States by President Emmanuel Macron this summer and discussed France’s relationships with other European countries at the event. About 60 people attended the talk, which was hosted by the Elliott School’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.

Étienne said European nations are heavily integrated with respect to their political affairs so one nation’s actions could have ramifications for the whole continent. Etienne said the five major issues essential to the French “vision of international order” are the economy, security policy, sustainable energy, the digital revolution and migration.

“Each country in Europe cannot address such issues by themselves alone,” he said. “Unified effort is essential.”

Étienne said European Union nations do not need greater individual sovereignty than the EU Constitution already guarantees members, an argument posed by anti-European Union advocates across Europe, but added that governments should take action to alleviate the concerns of the “voices of dissatisfaction” that arise in the face of policies supported by the majority of a nation.

Étienne said his president’s administration has made an effort to expand presidential visits to countries that have traditionally been neglected by past French presidents to mitigate internal division mounting within Europe today.

“We must continue to consider the France-Germany relationship as a priority,” he said. “But we also need to talk with the Nordic nations and the Netherlands. And we absolutely must not forget to reach out to the Central European countries.”

Étienne said the European Union needs constantly to try and bring its member nations together because their prior relationships, including a vast history of wars between nations, could lead to animosity. He said France’s rejection of a recent proposal to enlarge the European Union to include some Balkan states is a direct result of French involvement in wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“Our army of soldiers were engaged in the 1990s as known in the war in Yugoslavia and we know we paid the price for that, the French people and the French army,” he said. “So there is a question, a real question about the enlargement process.”

Étienne said French citizens have a tendency to fixate on social inclusion when it comes to domestic policy issues, overlooking the importance of accessible education. He said Macron’s reforms, which focus on guaranteeing “equality of access to education” across all socioeconomic classes, will increase inclusion.

“I think access to education is a right and most important issue, nationally and internationally,” he said.

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