Sunday, February 6, 2011

Debout La République: Universités de Rentrée 2009

Castle in Dourdan, France

In 2009, I had the delight of being able to be back in Europe, including France. Some of my readers may find it surprising that I should complain of not having traveled to France since 2003, prior to this trip; however, when your family is from Europe and you've been going there since you were a baby... it's something that you really do miss!

My happy boarding pass

One of the new things I did on this trip, in addition to traveling alone for the first time, was to participate in a French political meeting with a minor party known as Debout La République. This party is headed up by a gentleman by the name of Nicolas Dupont-Aignant, who is not only a mayor, but also in the French National Assembly. I'll spare you his full biography, but if you're interested, you should look him up.

Logo header from DLR website,

Now, I've done plenty of political things over here in Maryland and Washington D.C., but the French system is newer to me. At the time, I had hoped to be able to set up a slate for the French Expatriate Assembly's (ADFE) 'Washington' circonscription, aka legislative/electoral district.

French Embassy, Washington DC

Closeup of gate at French Embassy, Washington DC

As it turns out, unlike the United States, France considers the needs of its citizens living abroad worthy of representation. These elected representatives then sit on our behalf in a body officially known as Assemblée des Français de l'Etranger (ADFE). In addition to their core meetings, this body is able to choose members of the French Assembly and the French Senate on our behalf to represent us in the French government itself, in Paris.

Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, home of the French Senate

 Unfortunately, being new to the French political arena and the necessity of finding equal numbers of men and women to run made it basically impossible to even begin with finding people to run.  Additionally, the Washington district covers most of the east coast of the United States and as such, adds an additional difficulty regarding travel.

Me in the courtyard of the French Embassy, Washington DC

View of French Embassy courtyard from opposite angle

Despite this, I was able to meet up with fellow members of the party and to experience some really interesting interactions and speeches during my time in France.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignant giving a speech

Nicolas Dupont-Aignant speaking at dinner

One of the reasons I support DLR, is because they make so much more sense than other parties (at least to me). Most of the parties are either crazy or in some special interest's back pocket (or actually have no real positions). As far as I can tell, DLR takes a pretty moderate course that is governed by logic rather than by the nonsensical machinations of the major two parties, the Socialists (PS) and the Union Pour un Movement Populaire (UMP).

Schedule and transcript of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan's speech

My name tag for the retreat

Instead of selling out to the pipe dream of a 'United States of Europe', they want to turn the EU into more of an 'a la carte' framework for cooperation. Perhaps a bit more reminiscent of the Articles of Confederation as opposed to the Constitution, for an American analogy. The trouble with the European Union is that it cannot ever accomplish its stated goals because the nations of Europe are too different and the institutions of the European Union are not accountable, nor are they cost-effective. Additionally, DLR takes a very pro-France foreign policy, based largely on Charles de Gaulle, the great General from World War II and two time French President.

Left: street in Dourdan, France // Right: flags at French Embassy, Washington DC

Enough about politics... now to what I was participating in: the Universités de rentrée. What exactly are these? For those of you not familiar with French politics, let me explain. Basically, these are meetings, or more appropriately retreats for members of political parties and their friends to get together and have intellectual policy discussions and meetings.

Map of Dourdan, from tourist office... I picked this up on my way from the station to retreat center

This particular retreat was held in a small town called Dourdan. I rode the train (I think it was the RER) out to the city and then was actually silly enough to walk the whole way across town from the train station to the retreat center. I think it took me about a half hour to walk across town while pulling my suitcase the whole way, lol. Conveniently, the retreat center was at the top of a hill.

Me with Nicolas Dupont-Aignant, President of Debout La République

During this time, the leadership and the members of the party will go through what is happening in current events, anticipate upcoming trends, provide alternate viewpoints, ask questions, and debate ideas. Some of the topics are completely dry, but overall, the whole thing is quite fascinating. It was also really interesting to share my perspective as someone living abroad compared with that of members of their youth movement, Debout les Jeunes. I'm really excited about the potential of being able to participate again, hopefully in the near future!

Me with DLR's Délégué général to Canada, Mr. Bagot

One additional thing about political events, is networking. I ran into a very lovely couple when I was at this retreat and the gentleman turned out to be one of the advisors/counsellors to the French Senate. The net benefit is that he gave me and a friend of mine a lovely individual tour of the Palais du Luxembourg. We got to see many really interesting things that I had never planned on when I first arrived in France. Accordingly, I am eternally grateful to his hospitality and kindness. 

Brochures from the French Senate and French Senate Library

We even met the father of a well-known French politician who was in the Senate Library, who was himself a former French Senator. (I think it was Xavier de Villepin, but my memory may be off on this one) Incidentally, the library is amazing, all sorts of old books and the craziest ladder system to get to the higher books. The room itself, at one time was used for Napoleon's Imperial Senate. The whole palace was glorious and magnificent! Unfortunately, I was afraid to disrupt the decorum of the French Senate with picture-taking, so the only pictures I have are from the outside of the building. (note the picture earlier in this blog post) I also have some brochures from the tour.

I know it's a bit late, but I want to publicly say, 'thank you' or 'merci!' to everyone in France who welcomed me and made my visit so memorable, even if I don't remember all of your names at present! I'm sure that should God permit me to travel back to France that I will see you again and I'll make a fresh effort at remembering everyone's names then!