23 October 2014 - 25 October 2014

France's European and global role: can she lead?

Chair: Ms Christine Ockrent

A mild late October saw us grappling with the always fascinating paradoxes of France, and her policies in Europe and globally. Our lively and charming group of participants did their best to disentangle the realities from the myths, helped by our expert chair, and reached interestingly positive conclusions in some areas. We would have benefited from more non-European voices, but we nevertheless ranged widely and left few stones unturned. Even the French participants seemed to benefit from this Ditchley group therapy.

While not our main theme, we could not ignore France’s current domestic challenges. On the political side, we worried about the rise of the Front National (FN), the travails of both main parties, faced with popular discontent, and the risk of a ‘democratic accident’ down the road. The elite seemed increasingly out of touch with most people. Economically, we recognised the problems and the difficulties of fixing them quickly. While there was broad agreement on the diagnosis, there were differences on how far the present government was able and willing to go to challenge entrenched privileges. On the whole, we were not convinced that rapid progress was likely either on renewed growth or on reducing unemployment. We nevertheless felt that the present mood of gloom and pessimism was overdone, and was not taking account of France’s underlying strengths and assets, including favourable demography. Germany’s economic success was meanwhile being overplayed.

There was general concern about French policy on Europe, or lack of it, and reduced popular support for the EU. The FN was striking a nerve with its anti-EU rhetoric, even if the mainstream parties were not chasing them for now. We spent a lot of time on the current ills of the Franco-German relationship, which were serious, structural, and alarming. The Germans had no faith in the French political elite’s will to tackle France’s debt and deficit problems, while France saw Germany as unreasonably obsessed with austerity for its own sake, and blind to the damage this was doing to the Eurozone. There was no obvious way out of this for now, but real dialogue, as opposed to ritualistic meetings, had to be intensified between Berlin and Paris, or the risk of real trouble, for example if the euro crisis re-erupted, as was likely, would be very high.

There was meanwhile a need for French politicians to identify and articulate a new vision for the EU. We thought the French and British also needed to talk more now about the risks of ‘Brexit’ – France might not necessarily be as unhelpful as was often assumed. French relationships with the new Commission might be better for a while, but tensions were likely to resurface quickly, not least given relative lack of French influence within the Commission these days. The relationship with the new European Parliament was also likely to be fractious. One specific area of policy we worried about was the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where lobbies in France against an agreement were gathering strength rapidly.

The picture was altogether more positive on the wider foreign policy side, where French assets remained significant, not least P5 membership and military capacity, and a global policy remained the default option for government and public alike. Her recent activism and readiness to intervene in the Middle East and North Africa were striking and had gone down particularly well in Washington. We suspected that the reason why this French activism had attracted so much attention was less because it represented any new French doctrine, and more because their interventions had occurred in places now in the centre of international attention linked to the threat of Islamic extremism, and because French activism was a significant contrast to US and British quietism, at least until very recently, with both badly burned by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In any case this French ‘spike’ was welcome.

In the long run, France, like the UK, might not be able to stay a big player on her own, but as long as EU foreign policy remained in its present state of weakness, there was scope for effective national action in some areas. France also had the advantages of widespread bipartisan political and public support for her activism, and the ability to move rapidly and flexibly without worrying, for example, about parliamentary approval.

How long would this be sustainable, if domestic economic weakness persisted, and European policy continued to struggle? We could not put a timeframe on this, but noted that the issues were inevitably linked. Defence spending could be maintained for now, but was likely to decline in the longer term, as in the UK. Meanwhile France was notably eager to transform her interventionist operations into international ones as soon as could be managed. We also considered French policy in some geographical areas in more detail, and how French diplomatic style was evolving.

Our conclusions were few but significant: the need to fix the Franco-German motor, the desirability of a clearer French vision of the EU of the future, and the value of continuing French activism in foreign policy.

The relevance of French domestic policies
The conference was not about the internal situation of France, but we could not avoid the political and economic issues which France faces if we were to do justice to the challenges in the external field. We therefore inevitably spent a certain amount of time on the current strengths and weaknesses of the country. The internal political situation was clearly difficult, with President Hollande facing unprecedented levels of unpopularity, the Socialist Party struggling with internal dissent as if it were already out of power, and rival UMP leaders behaving as if power would come back to them at the next elections without having to sort out their policies first. Add in the extraordinary rise in popularity of the FN (rapidly turning into a genuine national socialist party), and the clever appeal of Marine Le Pen, and the possibility of a ‘democratic accident’ could not be ruled out, going beyond just the appearance of the FN candidate in the second round of the presidential elections, as in 2002. The French seemed profoundly fed up with their traditional politicians, apparently even more so than in other European countries, and frustrated by their inability to make things improve. The governing and business elites, which had long spent most of their time talking amongst themselves, had never bothered to explain current complexities to the broader audience, and appeared particularly out of touch with public opinion.

Another political factor relevant to foreign policy was inevitably the significant ethnic minority population, largely originating from the Middle East and Africa, including many currently troubled places. There was bound to be concern about alienation and high unemployment among these segments of the population, and the risk of spreading jihadism. The number of French citizens, including converts, who had gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, was worrying. At the same time it was noteworthy that, as in the UK, many of those who left to fight were not from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds.

However, it was the economic situation which caught most attention both inside and outside France, and made some observers wonder whether the current French economic and social model still had useful life in it. Here we struggled to agree on various fronts. The symptoms were relatively easy to identify: lack of growth; declining international competitivity; high unemployment, particularly among the young; high fiscal deficit and national debt (though not particularly elevated compared to many other countries); and tax and labour laws and regulations which discouraged entrepreneurs. But how serious were these problems, and why were they not being fixed? Was it a failure to agree on the diagnosis, or too many vetoes in the system? We thought it was more the latter.

There was nevertheless relative consensus that France should not be seen as a sort of bigger Greece or even bigger Italy. The administration worked — high taxes and high public spending at least bought good services and infrastructure investments, and the country had many huge assets, from some highly successful international companies to effective institutions and talented entrepreneurs. The economy was relatively open and in many ways highly globalised, attracting plenty of FDI, and investing elsewhere too. The debt was worrying, not least since two thirds of it was held abroad, but growth averaging 1.6% over the next few years would make it manageable. Average growth of only 1% would lead to disaster over time.

Some argued that the underlying problems were relatively easy to correct, and the present government was already taking steps to do just this, even if France was late to the reform table, as usual. 50 billion euros of savings in public spending, in present circumstances of low growth not only in France but also in the Eurozone more widely, was a significant effort, which would be carried through. Reform to over-restrictive regulations in areas like labour law was well under way, even if mostly below the radar. While it would no doubt be better to go further and faster, any President and any government in France had to be mindful of their own political constituency and public opinion, and calibrate change accordingly. The new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, was using a new kind of language about the issues, though he lacked a political base in the PS, and the current government was moving as fast as was possible in the circumstances. The results would show through in due course.

Others, including some of the French participants, were much more critical and pessimistic. Apparent cuts in public spending were in practice no more than reductions in the acceleration of spending, and structural reform was simply not happening. The political will to change was not really there, perhaps because the politicians still assumed that France was a rich country, and would find its way out of its problems as it had so often done before. The elite’s levels of economic literacy also remained low. France’s chances of a return to sustained growth and lower unemployment therefore remained poor. Those who did well out of the existing arrangements, i.e. incumbents of various kinds, had captured the system long ago, and had no intention of giving up their privileges. Union power remained strong in some parts of the public sector, and even indirectly, because of entrenched rights, in the private sector, though levels of union membership were strikingly low there. While there might be a blip upwards in growth at some point, therefore, the chances of this lasting were not good.

We had neither the time nor the mandate to go deeper into these issues, and little chance of reaching consensus. However, there was a sense that the current gloom of the French themselves about their country’s prospects was overdone, perhaps the result of peculiarly French disappointed idealism and worries about the current failings of their ‘elected monarchy’; and that outside pessimism, partly reflecting these French views, was also exaggerated. France continued to have significant assets, including favourable demography compared to those of many of her European neighbours, and her long-term prognosis, assuming a reasonable modicum of reform, and the closing of the democratic fault-line between elite and people, might well be better than many currently thought. At the same time, the economic progress of countries with whom France was so often unfavourably compared, notably Germany, might well prove a good deal more fragile than was presently assumed – for example in the German case because of poor demography and chronic lack of investment in infrastructure.

France’s role in Europe
France’s position in the EU had always been central, and she had often been the thought leader, but her ability to set the agenda and lead further EU development now seemed heavily compromised. This was partly linked to current economic weakness, but also reflected the present dominance of Germany, and the absence of a clear French vision of the EU’s future. The days when French politicians and civil servants could imagine the EU as France writ large, or an automatic multiplier of French influence in the world, were well and truly gone. French ideas were no longer the backbone of the European enterprise, and French influence in the euro crisis had been surprisingly weak. National psychological adaptation to the extent of enlargement and to German leadership was still work in progress. French hankering after a smaller core remained a powerful psychological factor.

Most French politicians remained committed to the EU and the euro, and public opinion was on the whole still pro-European, but there was no longer much enthusiasm for the European project, and most French politicians thought it best not to talk about the EU in public, except occasionally to blame the EU for one or other of their problems. This was an unpromising basis for effective policy. Meanwhile the FN’s anti-EU rhetoric was striking a nerve amongst significant sections of the French public, on both left and right of the spectrum, and the opposition to the EU by the parties to the left of the PS, on the grounds that it was an ultraliberal capitalist set-up, meant that the anti-EU case was often dominating the airwaves, while the pro case went by default. This was not unlike the situation in the UK in some ways, but at least the mainstream parties in France were not (yet) being drawn significantly into eurosceptic territory, in an attempt to follow the FN.

The most striking element of this part of the discussion was the huge amount of attention we gave to Germany and the French relationship with Germany, compared to any other country, including Britain. There was agreement round the table that the Franco-German motor was in serious trouble this time, and that there were deep divisions between the governments and leaders which would be very hard to bridge, particularly on economic management. There had often been disagreements in the past, and different instincts, traditions and cultures at work in the two capitals, but ultimately the imperative to find a way forward, aided by good relations between the leaders, had enabled compromises to be found which had satisfied both sides, and provided a rallying point for other member states, whatever their irritation at the process. Even Merkel and Sarkozy had somehow made the relationship work, despite their mutual dislike and distrust, mainly by Sarkozy hugging Merkel close and going along with her views when he had to.

This sort of process looked impossible for the moment between Berlin and Paris, reflecting deeply held views on both sides, and the current lack of balance in the relationship – the Germans thought they were stronger and better than they really were, and the French thought they were weaker and worse than they really were. There was deep frustration in Germany at France’s apparent inability to bring its budget deficit under control, or to pursue structural reform, alarm at Hollande’s unpopularity at home, and a sentiment bordering on contempt for the French political class in general. There was equally deep frustration in France at German obduracy about the need for more austerity in the eurozone, when most economists, and most EU governments, even the British, thought that what was needed was some kind of stimulus to avoid a deflationary spiral — a stimulus which had to be led by Germany; and criticism of Germany’s foreign policy weakness. This was a chasm of mutual lack of trust which seemed unbridgeable for now. For the German establishment, getting your finances in order was not just a question of sound economic policy and good governance,  but of moral rectitude, and this attitude was not about to change, even if most outside Germany thought it was misguided and highly dangerous for the eurozone.

These differences were compounded by internal political pressures in both countries, with French politicians wary of giving extra arguments to the FN or extreme left, and German politicians conscious of the threat from the AfD, as well as the ever-present risk of being found to act unconstitutionally by the German Constitutional Court.

How far did it matter whether the Franco-German motor was misfiring? The consensus around the table was that it continued to matter a lot. France under Hollande had made a half-hearted attempt to look for an alternative alliance with southern countries unwilling to accept more austerity, particularly Italy, but this had never really looked like going anywhere. Germany was working increasingly closely with Poland, but Poland did not look like a successor to France in this sense. In the past, difficulty between France and Germany might have been seen as an opportunity for the UK, but for the moment she was a self-selected marginal player. The point about the Franco-German motor had been that, precisely because they had come at many issues from different points of view, when they finally agreed, other countries could find enough to support in it too, so that the agreement could become the point of balance within the EU – the same had been true of the UK and France in the area of foreign policy. Now that this was no longer happening, the EU was floundering. Of course it had long been true that Franco-German agreement was a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress, and this was even more true now in a Europe of 28 – other groups and individual countries always had to be squared, and other actors were also increasingly important. Nevertheless, no substitute for the Franco-German motor had yet appeared.

In these circumstances, it was impossible for the French either to lead a revolt against German policy, or simply to submit to it. Muddling through was the best that could be done for now. This meant that the effort to increase understanding between the two capitals had to be intensified further, through a more intense and substantive dialogue. There was no shortage of meetings at all levels, but for the time being the Elysée Treaty structure seemed to be a hollow edifice.

What did all this mean for French European policy? The default position remained one of support for a highly integrated eurozone core under Franco-German leadership, but there were many problems about this beyond the current Franco-German difficulties. The current eurozone was already too big to be considered a core, and was likely to get bigger. It was not clear that the French public was signed up to the vision of their leadership, including the loss of national sovereignty such an arrangement would imply (about which French politicians were always publicly in denial), which increased the risk of a serious populist backlash at some stage. While the markets remained calm for now, the underlying euro crisis had not gone away, and its return would pose some huge fresh challenges, the more so since the Draghi effect on the markets had removed the pressure for reform, and not enough had been done to improve the fundamentals in countries like France and Italy. The impossibility of treaty change in present circumstances, because of the fear of losing any consequent referenda, not least in France, was also worrying. Would the Germans, if faced with a fresh existential challenge to the euro, be ready to go further than last time, and for example contemplate some version of eurobonds? It was not clear that German parliamentary and public opinion would be ready for this, although it was accepted intellectually in German governmental circles that in the circumstances of a fresh crisis, some major early move might be needed to avoid a spiralling decline in confidence.

We also discussed French attitudes to British membership, and the possibility of Brexit. The conventional wisdom was that Germany would go a relatively long way to keep the UK in, not least to avoid being left alone with the French on some big issues, e.g. trade, while France would be secretly happy to see the back of the British troublemakers/backmarkers. This seemed exaggerated on both counts. There were clear limits to how far the German government could or would go to retain British membership. At the same time the French would also be reluctant to see the UK go, because of the loss of EU foreign policy weight that would mean, because they would be reluctant to be left alone with the Germans, and because they would fear that the UK’s departure might make the whole edifice unravel. British politicians needed to talk to their French counterparts more about this, and might be surprised by the degree of understanding they would meet, at least if the possibility of Brexit looked like become increasingly real.

How would the French government get on with the new Commission and the new European Parliament? There was a degree of optimism that Juncker could develop a decent relationship with Paris – he certainly started off with a huge advantage compared to his predecessor, who had been seen, however unfairly, as weak and ‘ultraliberal’. Juncker’s initial steps and statements had gone down well in Paris. Moscovici had an important job in principle. However, the instinct to regard the Commission as interfering and ineffective would remain, as would the preference for intergovernmental deals. Moscovici might find himself marginalised in some important areas. The fact that France had relatively little influence these days within the senior official ranks of the Commission, which looked very ‘German’, e.g. the number of German chefs de cabinet, would also be a problem. The same applied to the Parliament, where German numbers, and the FN representation among the French ranks, meant that France was not at all well-placed to exert influence within what would almost certainly be an increasingly assertive EP.

One other area of policy we looked at closely was the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There was a good deal of concern that France would be a brake on the negotiation of a deal widely regarded as crucial in economic and strategic terms. The usual lobbies against anything seen as ‘liberal’, or likely to reduce European standards of consumer and environmental protection, were mobilising strongly, even more in France than elsewhere. While some French politicians might be in favour of TTIP in private, and it could conceivably get through the French National Assembly, there was little or no advantage for the average French politician, particularly a socialist one, in speaking up publicly to French audiences about TTIP’s merits. This was not encouraging, to say the least.

French foreign policy
We started from a look at France’s major international assets, which remained important: P5 membership, La Francophonie, a strong and wide diplomatic network, capable armed forces and the will to deploy them, and significant soft power, not least culturally. France’s position and influence in the Security Council was seen as particularly important. France also retained a sense of universal mission: the view that it had a global responsibility, and had something distinctive to contribute to the world, not least in areas like human rights. Public opinion seemed to like this and support it. A global role was ‘in France’s DNA’. Concern for France’s international image, and for its ‘rayonnement’, and even ‘gloire’, continued to be an important consideration in policy-making, and military power was part of that. Again the public seemed to accept this. One relative weakness for a power like France was opaque aid spending, heavily focussed on former colonies, and a small humanitarian budget.

The point which had struck most outsiders recently was that France seemed to be bucking the trend of shrinking away from military intervention, and indeed seemed to be more interventionist than ever: military deployments to Mali and the CAR, following their leading role in Libya; readiness to do more in relation to Syria; and rapid support for US air strikes against ISIL. Was this a correct interpretation of what had been happening, and what lay behind it?

Some participants argued that recent deployments were no more than a continuation of previous policy. France had always been ready to intervene to protect her interests and promote her values, particularly in countries to which she was linked from the past. Recent interventions had been given more prominence because the places in which she was intervening suddenly had more global significance in the light of the struggle against Islamic extremism, and also because other countries like the US and UK had retreated from their former readiness to intervene, no doubt because of the corrosive effects of the large-scale interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the major difficulties into which they had run.

Others did see a significant spike in French interventionism. It was noteworthy that Washington was now inclined to see France as its most dependable ally when it came to projection of power overseas, even if the UK remained its closest ally overall. A few participants were even inclined to think that French activism might be linked to economic and political difficulties at home: nothing like a foreign war to take minds off domestic problems and show the President and government in a more favourable light. This last point was not the majority view – it was pointed out that foreign affairs rarely gave more than a brief blip in opinion polls. Was French willingness to intervene perhaps linked to fears about increasing jihadism at home, for example among the Malian community or other Muslim minorities? There was no doubt that the French authorities, like many others around the world, were worried about the ‘foreign fighters’ phenomenon. But it was not clear that sending troops abroad to one of these countries was of itself likely to discourage jihadists – more likely the other way round.

The simplest explanation seemed to be that areas of traditional French influence in north and west Africa and the Middle East now faced a serious threat from Islamic extremists, following the mess in Syria resulting from the Arab spring, and particularly from the consequences for the Sahel region of what had happened in Libya, and that France saw a strong interest in intervening to halt this phenomenon. France did not aspire to be, and did not have the capacity to be, any kind of global gendarme.

How far was French foreign policy likely to be subsumed in European foreign policy in the future? Some around the table argued that in today’s world, and even more in the future, medium-sized powers like France or the UK could not expect to be taken very seriously, except as part of a bigger unit, for example by powers like China or India, or even the US. The need to move to a more collective policy was therefore paramount. Germany’s reluctance to contemplate overseas intervention had been a significant brake hitherto, but this might be changing as Germany engaged in a thorough review of its foreign policy, under the influence of events in Ukraine. A little more defence spending and a little more readiness to think about events outside the EU and its immediate neighbourhood was a plausible outcome.

Others pointed to the continuing weaknesses of EU foreign policy, which were unlikely to change in the near future, and the continuing desire of both the UK and France to remain largely sovereign in this area. The EU had had its successes, for example over Kosovo and Iran, but was unlikely to be the driver in many areas. Independent French policy would therefore remain a factor for a long time to come, and to be an asset to the EU overall. The Germans would no doubt continue to regard France as the leader in this area.

We discussed at some length the influence of domestic policy on French foreign policy. For the most part, it seemed relatively slight at present, at least compared to many other countries. Most issues were characterised by bi-partisan agreement, and consensus from the elite. Moreover one of the advantages of the French system, where so many foreign policy powers were concentrated in the hands of the President, was that it could proceed more or less autonomously. There was for example no need to consult parliament before military action. There was therefore a degree of flexibility and speed of response which was now impossible in the US or UK. We wondered whether the rise of the FN could change this comfortable situation in some way. For example they might start to push harder the argument that France should worry more about its own population and less about foreign adventures, and save its blood and treasure for nation-building at home. That might find an echo amongst parts of public opinion. But there was little sign of this for now, and the two main parties seemed on the whole determined not to allow FN populism to sway their own policies.

The broader question was how far this kind of activist foreign policy was sustainable, given domestic political and economic difficulties. As already discussed, there was a striking degree of political consensus, at least between the main parties, about foreign policy and foreign interventions. The deployments in Mali and the CAR had been widely supported. Even now, when French troops were still there long after the initial operations, there was little overt criticism. France had of course been spared the kind of national soul-searching about intervention which the US and UK had been through after the Iraq debacle, and the current mess in Libya did not seem to have given rise to as much questioning of the 2011 intervention as might have been expected. The French public seemed as ready as ever to tolerate casualties in foreign wars, and the costs in money had not been a target for widespread comment or analysis so far.

Nevertheless it was a truism in international affairs that economic strength at home was a sine qua non for lasting influence abroad. One sign of the times was perhaps the French eagerness to transform her national interventions into UN, EU or NATO operations once the initial phases were over. This had proved far from easy. Other European countries were not usually eager to send their own troops into these difficult situations, especially when they had not been consulted or involved in the decision-making at the beginning. This had sometimes led the French to accuse their European friends of lack of solidarity, and to point out that waiting for collective EU decision-making would almost inevitably have meant missing the moment when intervention was most needed. Nevertheless it was clear that France did want to share the costs, political and financial, of her interventions whenever she could.

More specifically, how long could France afford to maintain the military capacity to intervene in the ways she had been doing? This was not much of an issue in the short term. In the longer term, France, like the UK, would have some difficult decisions to take about how much she wanted to go on spending on defence, when other areas of domestic expenditure faced so many pressures, for example from an ageing population. Even on current trends, French defence spending as a proportion of GDP would be edging downwards in the next few years. That would not rapidly affect the capacity to carry out relatively light operations like those in Mali and the CAR, but it would raise questions about larger operations, and about the sustainability of smaller ones, as time went on.

On the economic front, French internationalism was less obvious – fear of the consequences of globalisation remained an important political factor, despite the fact that the French economy was in fact highly globalised in terms of trade and investment in both directions. This might change as a new generation of entrepreneurs came through, not least perhaps those returning from abroad with more open minds. For the moment it was perhaps a signal of French reluctance to accept that they could no longer dictate the terms of their engagement with the world, as their own relative position declined and that of the emerging powers increased.

We noted that one of the more enduring features of French post-war foreign policy, namely distrust of the US and US leadership, and a desire to strike a distinctive French pose, seemed to be almost entirely absent from the current scene. Re-joining NATO’s integrated military structure, with scarcely a squeak of protest, had symbolised this change, and relations with the US were now the best they had been for many years. It was interesting that French politicians were now prepared to talk about the ‘west’, an expression Chirac for example had always tried to avoid publicly. Did this mean that Gaullism and anti-Americanism had disappeared entirely? Some were not so sure, particularly on the left. It was also true that Obama still tended to call Hollande after he had already spoken to Merkel and Cameron. Nevertheless, France was, in many ways, much less of an outlier than in the past.

We also took a look at some specific aspects of French foreign policy, starting with Ukraine. France was essentially wedded to the same position of principle as other western countries, but could be seen as something of a laggard on sanctions, for example compared to the UK and Germany. Broad economic concerns and the specific Mistral issue might largely explain this. In the past it might have been expected that France would also be in the forefront of those looking for a diplomatic solution, and playing on good relations with the Russians. But there was little or no sign of this for now, perhaps because this was the first time in many years that there was not a good personal relationship between the leaders of France and Russia. Nevertheless the strength of the Russian lobby in France should not be underestimated. It might not be long before a visible French hankering to get back to business as usual with Russia surfaced.

In the Middle East, French attitudes to ISIL and alarm about their development mirrored those of others. But her toughness over the Iran negotiations had come as something of a surprise, though no doubt a useful one. Arguably France ought to have been able to play a more influential role in the early stages of the Arab spring, for example in Tunisia. However, she had taken a notably consistent stand on Syria throughout.

In Africa, particularly Francophone Africa, France remained a major player. It was worth noting that Anglo-French rivalry was finally a thing of the past (not before time), and that Franco-US cooperation was now particularly close in North Africa. Rivalry with growing Chinese influence was an increasing issue.

In the Asia-Pacific region, France had long been concerned to build a good relationship with China, for economic reasons as well as others, though the trade side had not been notably successful. In recent years she had aimed to broaden out this engagement to other players in the region. She had the aspiration to be a power in the region, not least because of her possessions in the Pacific, but it was not clear that she had the capacity to play a broader security role in Asia, any more than the UK did.

Finally we talked a little about French diplomatic style. There had long been a perception that the French were able to turn on a sixpence diplomatically in a way that the British were not, and were more entrepreneurial in the way that they proposed summits in Paris on virtually any subject at the drop of a hat, without necessarily having the will or capacity to follow through such initiatives. This did not seem to have changed much. COP21 was the latest example – a good opportunity for France but also a significant diplomatic risk if it failed to produce the hoped-for results. There was a feeling that the Quai had been slower than, say, the British or Americans in adapting its social composition to current realities but this now seemed to be changing. The Quai had also perhaps been slow to learn how to fight for its budget in today’s world, and slower than others to recognise the need to prioritise more economic and commercial diplomacy. But again they were now catching up.

There were no neat recommendations out of such a wide-ranging discussion. Particular points were the urgent need for France and Germany to give more real substance to their bilateral dialogue, to avoid a major accident down the road, for example if and when the euro crisis came back; and for the UK and France to talk more about what might help keep the UK in the EU. The need for France to develop and articulate, and sell to its own public, a clearer vision for the future of the EU, was also a common theme. It was not for this conference to make recommendations about French domestic policy, but there was a widespread hope that the government would move further and faster on structural reform, and that the French meanwhile could get themselves out of their current extreme fit of morosité, which seemed deeper than could be justified by the facts.

If we were concerned that France could not lead in the EU in present circumstances, on the wider foreign policy side our conclusion was perhaps surprisingly positive: whatever her current domestic woes, and despite the complexities of today’s multi-polar, or perhaps non-polar world, France could still be an influential leader in the world, especially in areas of traditional French presence, because of her attachment to the promotion of universal principles and values; because of her relative degree of willingness to intervene, even where others feared to tread; and because her foreign policy was relatively immune to the vagaries of domestic policy. That was a net plus for the world, which we should encourage. How long France could maintain this while losing influence inside the EU, and struggling economically at home, was a question to which we could not provide a precise answer, but the three were closely linked, and one could not move independently of the other two for more than a few years.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression. Not all attending participants have been named, at their request.


CHAIR: Ms Christine Ockrent
Commentator and Writer, France Culture; Contributor to various European newspapers, BBC and other TV and radio networks; Board Member: European Council on Foreign Relations, Center for European Reform, Human Rights Watch France. Formerly: COO, France 24 and RFI; Editor-in-Chief, l'Express.

Mr Stefan Lehne
Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Brussels. Formerly: Austrian Diplomatic Service: Director General for Political Affairs, Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs (2009-11); Director for the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union (2002-08); Head, Task Force for Western Balkans and Central Europe.

Mr Patrice Bachand 
First Counsellor, Political Affairs and Cooperation, Québec Government Office in Paris.
Ambassador Lawrence Cannon
Ambassador of Canada to France (2012-). Formerly: Minister of Foreign Affairs (2008-11); Member of the Canadian Parliament for Pontiac (2006-11); Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (2006-08).
Ms Laurence Deschamps-Laportel
Rhodes Scholar, DPhil Candidate in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, Magdalen College, University of Oxford (2011-). Formerly: Affiliated Doctoral Researcher, Centre for Economic, Legal and Social Studies, Cairo (2013-14); Summer Associate, McKinsey & Company, Montreal (2013); Research Assistant, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (2012-13); Social Sector Intern, Earth Institute, Millennium Cities Initiative, New York (2011); Intern, La Presse, Montreal (2009).
Professor Frédéric Mérand 
Director, Centre for International Studies, University of Montreal (CÉRIUM); Director, McGill University-University of Montreal European Union Centre of Excellence; Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Montreal; Visiting Professor: Toulouse, Strasbourg, Sciences Po Paris, Rome, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Toronto. Formerly: Policy Advisor, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (2004-05); Fellow, Institute on Global Cooperation and Conflict (2001-03).

Mr Jeppe Matzen 
Weekendavisen (2003-): Journalist/Correspondent, UK and India (2013-). Formerly: Correspondent: Pakistan, Afghanistan and India (2006-13).

Her Excellency Ms Sylvie Agnès Bermann 
French Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to the United Kingdom (2014-). Formerly: Ambassador to the People's Republic of China (2011-14); Director, United Nations and International Organisations Directorate, and Director, United Nations, International Organizations, Human Rights and Francophony Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2005-11); Ambassador to the European Union's Political and Security Committee, Brussels (2002-05); Head, Common Foreign and Security Policy Department, Political and Security Affairs Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1996-2002); Second Counsellor, French Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York (1992-96).
Mr Pascal Boris CBE 
Honorary President, French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain; Co-Founder, 'Cercle d'outre-Manche'; Vice-Chairman, BNP Paribas Wealth Management; Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Bank Insinger de Beaufort N.V.; Independent Director, Grant Thornton International Ltd. Formerly: CEO, BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA (2007-13); CEO BNP Paribas UK (1999-2007).
Mr Charles de Croisset
Director, LVMH (2008-); International Adviser, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (2006-); Vice-Chairman, Goldman Sachs Europe (2004-); Member, Inspectorate of Finances, France; Director, Renault SA (2004-). Formerly: Director, Thales (Thales Avionics Inc.) (2004-09); Chief Executive Officer, HSBC France (formerly Crédit Commercial de France SA) (1993-2004).
Mr Nicolas Dufourcq 
Chief Executive Officer, Bpifrance, Paris. Formerly: Chief Financial Officer (2004-12) and Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Capgemini; Head, Central and Southern Europe Region, Capgemini (2003-04); Chairman and CEO, Wanadoo (2000-03); Executive Director, France Telecom (1998-2003).
Mr Jean-Dominique Giuliani 
Chairman, Robert Schuman Foundation, Paris (2000-); Special Adviser to the European Commission (2006-); Founder and Chair, J-DG.Com International Consultants (2002-). Formerly: Special Policy Adviser, Fleishman-Hillard (2002); Managing Director, Taylor Nelson Sofres Group (1998-2001); Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Senate (1992-98).
Mr Camille Grand 
Director, Foundation for Strategic Research (2008-). Formerly: Deputy Director, Multilateral Affairs and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (2006-08); Deputy Diplomatic Adviser to the French Minister of Defence (2002-06); Special Adviser on Nuclear Policy, Strategic Affairs Department, Ministry of Defence, Paris (1999-2002).
Mr Gaspard Koenig
President, GénérationLibre, Paris; Author and Media Commentator. Formerly: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London; Speechwriter to then Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde; Lecturer, University of Lille III.
Mr Jean-Claude Piris 
Consultant for European Law and International Public Law, Piris Consulting, Brussels; Author: 'The Future of Europe: Towards a Two-Speed Europe?' (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 'The Treaty of Lisbon: a Legal and Political Analysis' (CUP 2010); Co-Author, 'Report on the Governance of the Euro' (June 2012); Legal Counsel of the European Council.  Formerly: Director General of the Legal Service, EU Council (1988-2010); Legal Counsel of the Intergovernmental Conferences which negotiated and approved the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon; Director, Legal Affairs, OECD; French Diplomatic Service; French Councillor of State.

Ms Almut Möller 
Head of Programme, Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Berlin (2010-).
Dr Daniela Schwarzer 
Senior Director, Research and Director, Europe Progam, German Marshall Fund (2014-); Senior Research Professor, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University (2014-); Adjunct Faculty Member, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin (2010-). Formerly: Head, EU Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin (2008-14); Fritz Thyssen Scholar, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University (2012-13); Advisor, Prime Minister's Strategic Analysis Group, Paris; Member, External Advisory Team in preparation for the Polish EU Presidency; Member, 'Europe' working Group, Whitebook Commission Foreign and European Policy, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Senior Fellow, Research Division, EU Integration, SWP (2005-08); Editorialist and France Correspondent, Financial Times Deutschland, Paris (1999-2002, 2002-04).

Mr John Bruton 
President, IFSC Ireland; Board Member: Ingersoll Rand, Montpelier Re, Centre for European Policy Studies, Cooperation Ireland. Formerly: Head, European Commission Delegation, Washington, DC (2004-09); Vice-President, The European People's Party (1999-2005); Member, Dail Eireann for Meath (1969-2004); Leader of Fine Gael (1990-2001); Parliamentary Assembly of Western European Union (1997-99); Taoiseach Prime Minister of Ireland (1994-97); President, Irish Council of the European Movement (1990-96); President, Irish Council of the European Movement (1990-96); Deputy Leader of Fine Gael (1987-90); Leader of the House (1982-86). A former Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Vincenzo Scarpetta
Political Analyst, Open Europe, London (2009-). Formerly: Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ms Heroina Telaku 
Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, London. Formerly: Head of the Policy Planning Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kosovo (2013-14); Chief of Cabinet/Political Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Kosovo (2011-13).

Mr Enrique Mora 
Spanish Diplomatic Service: Director for Policy Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain. Formerly: Head of Cabinet of the EU High Representative (2005-09); Deputy Director General for CFSP (2002-05).

Mr Emre Demir 
Editor-in-Chief and Founder, Zaman France; Columnist, Today's Zaman; Regular Contributor, France 24 International and other TV and radio networks, Paris.

Mr Jonathan Derbyshire
Managing Editor, Prospect Magazine. Formerly: Culture Editor, New Statesman.
Mr William Evans OBE 
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London; Counsellor (Political Affairs)-designate, British Embassy, Paris (2015-). Formerly: Counsellor, British Embassy, Bucharest (2009-12); Counsellor, British Embassy, Kabul (2004-05); First Secretary, British Embassy, Tallinn (2002-04); Second Secretary, British Embassy, Sarajevo (1997-99).
Mr David Frost CMG 
Chief Executive, Scotch Whisky Association (2014-). HM Diplomatic Service (1987-13): Director for Europe, Trade and International Affairs, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Director for Policy Planning, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); Ambassador to Denmark; Director, European Union, FCO.
Mr Charles Grant CMG 
Co-Founder and Director, Centre for European Reform (1996-); Member, International Council, Terra Nova; Advisory Board Member: Moscow School of Political Studies; Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, Istanbul. Formerly: Board Member and Trustee, British Council (2002-08); Defence Editor and Brussels Correspondent, The Economist. Chairman of the Programme Committee, a Member of the Council of Management and a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG, CH 
Independent Member, House of Lords (2001-). Formerly: Member, EU Select Committee, House of Lords (2002-06, 2008-14); Chairman, United Nations Association of the UK (2006-10); Member, UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2003-04); British
Government Special Representative for Cyprus (1996-2003); HM Diplomatic Service (1959-95); Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN (1990-95); Permanent Representative to the European Community (1985-90). A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Sir Julian King KCVO, CMG 
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (1985-): Director-General, Economic and Consular, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Formerly: Director General, Northern Ireland Office (2011-14); Ambassador to Ireland (2009-11); Head of Cabinet to Commissioner for Trade, European Commission (2008-09); UK Representative to the EU Political and Security Committee (2004-08).
Mr Hans Kundnani 
Research Director, European Council on Foreign Relations, London.
Mr Nick Lakin 
Group Head of Government Affairs, Kingfisher plc (2013-). Formerly: Head of Communications and Corporate Responsibility, Molson Coors (2010-13); Vice President Corporate Responsibility, E.ON AG (2007-10); Head of Retail Communications, E.ON UK (2002-07).
Ms Sophie Pedder 
Paris Bureau Chief, The Economist (2003-).
Sir Peter Ricketts GCMG, GCVO
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (1974-); Ambassador to France (2012-). Formerly: National Security Adviser (2010-12); Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Head of the Diplomatic Service (2006-10); UK Permanent Representative, UK Delegation to NATO (2003-06); Political Director, FCO (2001-03); Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee, Cabinet Office (2000-01); Director, International Security, FCO (1999-2000). An Honorary Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Ms Deborah Cavin 
Senior Adviser, The Institute for Inclusive Security, Washington, DC. Formerly: US Diplomatic Service.Mr Steven Erlanger 
New York Times: London Bureau Chief (2013-). Formerly: Paris Bureau Chief (2008-13); Berlin Bureau Chief (2001-02).
Mr Jim Hoagland 
Washington Post (1966-): Contributing Editor (2010-); Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution (2010-). Formerly: Associate Editor and Chief Foreign Correspondent.
Dr Charles Kupchan 
Senior Director for Europe, National Security Council (2014-); Whitney H. Shepardson Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC; Professor, International Affairs, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government, Georgetown University. Formerly: Director, Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University (2004-05); Director for European Affairs, National Security Council (1993-94).
Mr Jonathan Paris 
London-based analyst and consultant to the Office of Net Assessment, US Department of Defence (2003-) and IC Associate, Department of State (2008-); Senior Advisor, The Chertoff Group; Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King's College London.
Dr John Rielly 
President Emeritus, Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University; Visiting Professor, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego. Formerly: Foreign Policy Assistant to Vice President Hubert Humphrey; President, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (1974-2001). A Member of the Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Jeremy Shapiro 
Fellow, Project on International Order and Strategy, and Foreign Policy Program, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution. Formerly: Senior Adviser, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State; Director of Research, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution; Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; Adjunct Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Policy Analyst, RAND, Washington, DC.