French Politician Christopher Weissberg Discusses European Affairs Following Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine at IOP Speaker Series Event

Weissberg discussed international sanctions on Russia, French foreign policy, and heightened European defenses.


Christopher Weissberg spoke at the Institute of Politics (IOP) on May 15.

By Jenna Moor

The student-led International Policy Program hosted French député (member of the National Assembly) Christopher Weissberg for a conversation centered around current international sanctions placed on Russia, the role of France in the European Union (EU), and the state of France’s diplomatic relations with the United States and other countries. The event was held at the Institute of Politics (IOP) building on May 15.

Born in France, Weissberg graduated from the Université de Montréal, the College of Europe in Canada as well as Sciences Po in Paris. Part of the centrist Renaissance—the largest party in the National Assembly—Weissberg was elected in 2022 as a representative of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In addition to representing French people living abroad in North America, Weissberg is also responsible for researching and reporting on international policy and furthering cultural relations with other countries.

Weissberg began the discussion by reflecting upon the politics of international sanctions imposed on Russia since their invasion of Ukraine. He claimed that when the sanctions took effect, France’s trade and energy supply were harmed. This sparked opposition from members of the National Rally, the primary right-wing opposition party in the National Assembly.

Despite pushback from within France, Weissberg stressed that international sanctions significantly impact the Russian economy. He credits these sanctions with establishing positive cooperation between the EU and United States, which he contends has been rare in the past.

“Sanctions are never the only tool that makes a regime fall, but it’s always part of the answer,” Weissberg said. “This is the stick, and then you need the carrot…I personally think that, when you look after one year, the sanctions have worked, but we need to think about the diplomatic process to end the war in Ukraine. If those two are in parallel, then you can have positive outcomes.”

Weissberg spoke about the threat that diversions pose to the outcome of these sanctions. Specifically, he claims that Russia uses countries such as Turkey to act as intermediaries for illegally obtaining goods and technology from the United States.

Within the EU, all 27 member states must agree on any foreign policy action, including the imposition of international sanctions, before it is enacted and enforced. So far, Weissberg said that the EU has been able to speak with one unified voice on Ukraine, and he is optimistic that this will continue.

“The threat [from Russia] is part of our identity. Our first neighbors in Poland and the Baltic states are of course extremely worried about what’s going on in Russia,” Weissberg said.

He then pivoted to a discussion on French public opinion of the war in Ukraine.

“There is still a large consensus on our public opinions to support Ukraine,” Weissberg said. “I think we will keep up and provide more military resources to Ukraine, but obviously this is very linked to how our other entities are reacting.”

Throughout the discussion, Weissberg emphasized the importance of maintaining relationships with other countries, even those with politics that differ from those of France.

“There are sanctions, there are military defenses from Ukraine, but at some point there will be a diplomatic deal, and so you have to be able to talk to everybody,” Weissberg said. “After World War II, there was the passage of Yalta…that talked about how the world would be divided after the war. And this is also what’s going to happen in the next few months.”

Shifting geographic focus, Weissberg commented on France’s decision to withdraw troops from Mali and Burkina Faso. He spoke of his admiration for French President Emmanuel Macron’s attitude towards the African continent and France’s former colonies.

“What I’ve seen with Macron getting to power is a real, honest, and transparent will to change the relationship between France and its former colonies,” Weissberg said. “That’s actually one of the reasons why I was convinced of his way of looking at things. Macron was the first president who was born after 1962 and colonial times, so he has a different vision of how France should be tied to those countries.”

One major step Macron has strived to take is to end usage of the currency used in most former French colonies, which is considered by most Africans as a tool of colonialism. However, Weissberg acknowledged the difficulty in making these changes, especially in Algeria, and the lack of progress in connecting with these governments and civil societies so far.

Weissberg later spoke about the increase in France’s military budget to the highest it has been since the 1960s, and the current budget proposal includes a 33 percent increase in military spending by 2030. He agrees with Macron that France needs to contribute more to Europe’s military defenses to be a strong member of the EU and face the increased threat from Russia.

“European defense has been the ultimate taboo of Europe for the last eighty years,” he said. “Cooperation in Europe was economic, and it was never defense, and it dates back to the beginning. For so many years, we could not envision a military with Germans and French together, integrated. And this is changing. That’s also one of the great achievements of Macron, but it’s more global than this because of the Russian threat. The Germans, for the first time, have also increased their military capacity.”

In the audience Q&A, Weissberg was asked about immigration as a pillar of France’s foreign policy.

“On this issue, like so many, we have the same challenges as America has,” Weissberg said.  “Immigration is still and will always be the drive to populism and the extreme right…Climate refugees will probably be the biggest threat in the next 50 years, so we’re directly impacted by this immigration. And just like it is in the U.S., none of the discussions and the policies the political class is talking about are having any impact on immigration.”

Weissberg laid out two main goals for immigration in France: cooperating with the international community on border control and improving the integration of immigrant families into the labor market and providing them with economic opportunities.

“This is the voice I’m trying to raise in French politics, but I’m quite the exception,” Weissberg said.