Benjamin Haddad: “I do today the kind of job that brought me to Sciences Po in the first place”
Benjamin Haddad is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, and he has always had an interest in international politics, stemming from his time as a student at Sciences Po. He describes always having had “a passion for politics, for international affairs, and for history” and appreciated the diversity of offerings during his five years at Sciences Po, including a Master of International Affairs.
“I loved the academic experience,” Haddad says. “The first two years were very broad, taught the pillars of political science, and allowed students not to over-specialize from the get-go.” He greatly appreciated the experience of his year abroad in Washington DC, an opportunity that at the time had been newly instituted at Sciences Po. He also fondly remembers the international atmosphere of the master’s degree. Haddad has stayed close not only to many students, but also to many of his professors, who work as diplomats and scholars of international relations. “It was just a very intellectually vibrant atmosphere,” he adds. Haddad entered Sciences Po in 2003, so he recalls debates outside of the classroom about the war in Iraq, the post-9/11 era, and the aftermath of the 2002 French presidential election where the far-right had made it to the second round. “It was a very heated both political and national moment,” he says. “At the time, I would do a lot of political activism. So I was, and still am, very into politics.”
After Sciences Po, Haddad earned a master’s degree in financial economics at HEC and then worked briefly in finance. Though he learned a lot, he returned to his first love: international affairs. After teaching international affairs at Sciences Po, Haddad moved to Brussels and worked for the European Commission. He then moved to Washington DC, where he has been working in think tanks ever since. “I am having a lot of fun, and I am completely connected to my Sciences Po experience every day,” he says. “While at Sciences Po, I interned in a Washington DC think tank, and I stayed in touch with the folks there for years, and they brought me back to work eight or nine years later. I do today the kind of job that brought me to Sciences Po in the first place.”
When asked about what sparked his passion for politics, Haddad describes a turning point when he went to Ukraine in 2014 during the Maidan movement. “We had massive protests against the corrupt government,” he remembers. “I went there as a pro-European activist to show solidarity and support protestors.” This experience anchored his desire to return to international issues and also led him to the realization that few in the think tank community in Washington DC were still talking about Europe. “Europe was considered sort of a post-historical continent—problem solved,” he recalls. “People were focusing on the Middle East or on the Asian Pacific.” Haddad reached out to some of his former colleagues to share his beliefs that the tensions in Europe, “from the war in Ukraine, to the consequences of the war in Syria, to the rise of populist all across Europe, were putting Europe back on the map.” What brought Haddad back to the world of international affairs was his desire to participate in the rebuilding of a European expertise “that had been either lost or stuck in the 90s to a large extent.” Haddad felt there was little understanding of the European Union as an actor when it came to trade, digital issues, environmental issues, or engagement to shape common norms and standards between the United States and Europe. “These issues were really under explored, if explored at all,” Haddad says. “That is what brought me to work on them, first at the Hudson Institute and the at the Atlantic Council.”
As the director of the European program, Haddad is in charge of managing the program budget and setting directions for content and programming, including studying the future of the European Union, the UK post Brexit, Central Europe, the Western Balkans, and Franco-American relations. Haddad believes the real value added is that “we are really good at providing platforms, both private and public, for people from different horizons, policymaking experts, and the private sector to engage on various issues.”
In 2019, Haddad wrote and published in French the book Paradise Lost: Trump’s America and the end of European Illusions. Haddad aimed to understand what was going on in the United States in connection to European politics. “I wanted to try to take a step back from scandals and the personality of Donald Trump and examine longer term factors, whether this was an aberration in US history, or what I believe, more of a brutal acceleration of preexisting trends, especially when it comes to America’s relation to Europe,” Haddad explains. “My book is an analysis of what I think is the long-term direction that the US is taking, but it is also a call for Europeans to unite, to take more responsibility, and to behave like a real power on the world stage.”
Reflecting on his time at Sciences Po, Haddad reiterates the privilege he feels. “I had a great time at Sciences Po, and I did end up in a job that actually corresponds to the kind of field that I wanted to explore when I was at Sciences Po,” he says. “Being at Sciences Po opened the doors for me and gave me the connections to explore the world of international affairs.”