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Clément Beaune at the School of Public Affairs

Article originally published on www.sciencespo.fr by the editorial team of Sciences Po. 


>Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, was the guest of the School of Public Affairs on the 16th of March to discuss the role of the current French presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) and more particularly, in the geopolitical context we are experiencing today, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This conference was part of the European Seminar series of conferences of the Master in European Affairs and more broadly part of a series of events organised by Sciences Po's schools and research centres aimed at shedding academic light on the analysis of the war in Ukraine. As recalled by Philippe Martin, dean of the School of Public Affairs, the academic community of Sciences Po offers its expertise on the economic, financial, humanitarian, strategic and now European dimensions of the conflict, with the presentation given by Clément Beaune. Moderated by Olivier Rozenberg, associate professor at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics at Sciences Po and scientific advisor for the Master in European Affairs at the School of Public Affairs, this conference allowed for a lively and engaging exchange between the guest speaker and the students.  

"Nostalgic and moved" to speak from the pulpit of the Boutmy, an amphitheatre that he knew so well during his student years on rue Saint Guillaume, the Minister of State showed a certain degree of caution in the face of the magnitude of the dangers that threaten Europe and in particular the war in Ukraine. "My message is perhaps a message of humility or incertitude, nevertheless this is also the purpose of an academic environment, we must try at all times, even when news hits us, to think, to reflect. I will try to do so with you".


As France currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, Clément Beaune logically pointed out the importance of the EU's response, which has shown "undeniable acceleration" in the face of the current conflict. "On the military level, that of solidarity and reception in the face of the migration crisis, this shows us that Europe is not condemned to a form of immobility, slowness or impotence." But as Olivier Rozenberg analysed, the Minister of State also, unexpectedly, expressed some doubts and valid questions: are we doing enough? Are we Munich-like? Are we instead holding our nerve?

There are certainly many assessments to be made. Citing Brexit or more recently the Covid-19 health crisis as examples, Clément Beaune outlined a context that is ultimately quite recent, which has pushed Europe to "rethink unthinkable things," situations for which it was historically unprepared. "When we are unable to think about things we do not want to see, we are also unable to react, to anticipate or to reform strongly enough and early enough," he clearly summarised. 

Today, the conflict in Ukraine is confronting Europe with realities that it had attempted to forget, even though for 75 years it has sought to impose the law in the face of force: "the European approach, as a project of peace and reconciliation, has difficulty conceiving of the very idea that one can act by force. Recalling that the European project, which until now had succeeded in remaining faithful to its initial commitments to weave solid political and economic ties between States and through the application of law, Clément Beaune specified that through this common ambition, "we have chosen cooperation but we have left power aside". 

While at the time of the creation of the European project at the end of the World War II, the concerns of the States were more internal, it must be admitted that today, the horizon and perspectives of citizens turn rather to the outside of Europe, in its relationship to the world: the climate and migration crises, the digital revolution and today the war..., which are all "subjects of power". The question then arises: "Are we capable of expressing both cooperation and power in Europe?", he wondered. 


With the war in Ukraine, subjects and situations that sometimes seemed to be taken for granted, such as our fight for freedom, are coming to the surface. Is European sovereignty, are our democracies, under threat? "We are rediscovering that sovereignty is not only political or philosophical notions, it is the ability to defend one's territory, values and interests. And this is a lesson that we are also learning from the Ukrainians today.”

Is a Europe that can keep its own position and convictions able to face the threat of aggressor states, autocracies, dictatorships, which are ready to make their own people pay a sometimes vital price? To do this, does it need to acquire military power, a specific capacity for intervention, and technological, energy and food independence? "Are democracies strong enough to deal with such brutal events?" the Minister of State asked. 

To the question of whether we are ready to defend our values, Clément Beaune feels that we will know how to answer by the law - that of Europe - and not by force, but also by the fervent belief in this European democratic model. But for this, "we will need your ideas and your action", he concluded, addressing the Boutmy amphitheatre filled with students, eager to be convinced in turn. 

The editorial team of Sciences Po

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Vidéo © Thomas Arrivé/Sciences Po

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