The critical challenges faced by the world today are international and therefore require international solutions, French Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens told a crowd of Institute students and faculty and Monterey community members during a recent Friday afternoon presentation. Describing France, the European Union (EU), the United States, and California as “like-minded,” Lebrun-Damiens said that the time for national solutions is over, noting that he planned to speak from an “EU perspective” rather than as a French official.
Lebrun-Damiens then went on to review the history of achievement in the EU, the nature of its institutions and its impact on California, portraying “the European experience” as an extraordinary feat of balance between sovereignty and internationalism. Each state, he said, gives up a bit of its sovereignty to contribute to a stronger voice in the international system. This allows nations like France to regain a bit of power in comparison to larger countries like the United States and China. A truly remarkable aspect of the formation of the EU, he pointed out, was the development of a true single market to achieve peace and security in a post-World War II era. “We have achieved the longest period of peace in our history,” he noted.
A graduate of the Strasbourg Institute of Political Studies and a former student of France’s prestigious l’École Nationale d’Administration, Leburn-Damiens started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development in May 2003. He subsequently served two years at the French Embassy in New Zealand before moving on to serve as the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in New York. Afterwards, he spent two years as a Special Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during which time he coordinated key aspects of the Paris Accords, before taking his current position as Consul General of France’s San Francisco consulate.
Addressing the political upheaval following the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, Lebrun-Damiens described the EU as “like an omelet” in which each state had contributed an egg; but now one country wanted to take an egg out of the already-made omelet. There is no easy way to handle this, but he believes a hard exit is irrational for all parties involved. The situation is complicated by the institutional structure of the EU, where governance is essentially a partition of power between the EU and member states, with the EU assuming full responsibility in some areas, such as trade, while deferring to individual states in other areas, such as security. Additionally, he stressed a critical failure of the EU to create a “European agora” to facilitate discussion in the public arena on important issues that affected all citizens in the union.
Lebrun-Damiens also emphasized the EU’s significance to California, noting that in recent years, the EU has helped to advance several agendas that are very close to Californian values, like the Paris Accords. “We are like-minded in the way we see the world, how we invest in humanitarian assistance and overseas development and how we promote equality in the world,” he said, adding that “I’ve lived in California for two years, so I look at things positively.” He also suggested that the growing economy makes this “a good time for reform” at the EU.
The Consul General’s visit to the Institute was coordinated by the Alliance Francaise of Monterey.
Mary Chen is a student in the Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.